[poem for march 11, 2009]
I saw the fox squirrel sitting on the stand
of the sundial with the twig-shaped hand.
He sat still, his tail flung carelessly
forward over a shoulder. The make-do tree
overlooked bird feeder, lawn, and on this date
a flood of snow that seemed to sublimate.
A dim mist huddled by the scraggly wood;
I saw it mill about, precess, stir, rise. Could
we attribute to our squirrel some notion
predicated on, I don’t know, image, motion,
of the strangeness of this mist above snow,
as if the sky were un-snowing from below?
Can we name him some beauty or bewilderment
to see the sharp fuzz and the near went,
to feel far brittle branches’ caress and the press
of space nest into the mind? Intuit yes.
He clutches the twig-dial with little hands
like a helmsman prefiguring close lands.
His brain must be smaller than a walnut,
like his snow-footprints it must course its rut
from tree to tree to tree, from space to space,
along dip tense liquid pivot up bough, the race
and the swell of branch, dense push to earth,
paws spread-eagled on a big tree’s girth.
Suppose he thinks trees the same way I dress.
God knows I don’t conclude the sleeve, less
do I have a plan to remove a sweater.
I used to put on shirts, or dresses, better,
front to back, so I could seem them just
as they would look on me, just as I thrust
among their labyrinths. Dimly perplexed,
I was too involved in what would come next—
wearing the dress—to let one turn its back,
to wait, to hold foreknowledge in its track.
Another thing, when I was very small,
at eight after the amber lamp in the hall
was switched off, when the night-light shone,
I used to feel one of my digits grown
massive but weightless, a toe on the loom,
waxing, palpitating frontiers of the room.
Then obscurely it would erase, vaguely forgot.
I seem to remember it happening a lot.
I remember doing things I didn’t understand,
“taking notes” on Marco Polo in Samarkand,
clasping hands in prayer in kindergarten.
I heard names—Richelieu and Spartan—
with no meaning other than what I felt:
a quickening of the pulse, a rufous pelt
pinned with the soft gurgle of mother-of-pearl,
a brick cathedral, an oil-spill whorl;
something else angular and red-yellow,
emanating the pre-sound of sounding hollow.
The squirrel sitting on the primitive clock
is stuck between no hard place and no rock,
he changes and is morphous like the fog,
like the sundial he swoops, he has no cog,
no pause. He feels his tail hair on his fur,
he knows of numbness in his toes, the slur
of a breeze by his flank, and the warm
instantiatedness of insides. The form
of things drifts, particulates, rushes,
opaquifies, holds its breath, teeters, blows, hushes.
The squirrel feels out half-assumed stances,
tentative conjoined smells, small knit trances.
These sensations come to a head, to nought,
and the fox squirrel, innocent of thought,
stirs over his strange white domain, impels
his tiny realm from now to what now foretells.
From The New Yorker; March 9, 2009
Courtesy of S.L.