Six Descriptions

My mother kept the crippled owl
On a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service;
Perched on our screen porch, it would hiss
And clack its beak when I left on an errand.
My mother in the kitchen killing sparrows
For the owl: too many of them
Preempt nuthatch and bluebird, so she cups
Each trapped friend in her palm, and takes its life
Between the thumb and fingers gently.

Exploring the cut of the stream:
Weeds curve green ribs over mud,
Shale parts in baking sun
Like the feathery sinuses
In the nose of a skull,
Watery ligaments grip the yellow rocks.
And, knowing the realness of the quartz,
The sun sure as a pebble,
I am happy here.

I opened the freezer door to get some ice:
Three rats dropped out,
Pink, frozen twists of meat
Bought from government labs to feed the owl.
I saw them later, thawing on the porch;
Then bloated and headless on his feeding-stump,
Pink-and-white plumpness of mortality.
He savors the head, skull fur and brains,
Disdains the bodies fat as the hands of an aunt.

The first day at the beach I wakened early
And, walking, saw among alluvial scum,
On flat sand freckled with weed-bits,
The empty helmet of a horseshoe crab.
How could one so armored come to this?
The air came pure from over sea,
And the wakening morning,
Lapping its tides of dry light
Over the still, brown bowl.

After we viewed the body in its casket
My great-grandfather explained, outside,
How bricks, ground back into red dust,
Were part of the dirt we stepped on,
And houses, buried under deep layers,
Were forgotten and built upon; until I saw
Bones sprouting hard buds
In the graveyards, like potatoes left too long
In a dark kitchen cabinet.

I was six. They lifted me up to see the uncle.
I could not tell what it was,
But knew the half-shown thing
Was not a man;
Digging, at eight, the cut of a root surprised me:
I drew back, tearless, staring at the deep
Loam-crammed wound beginning to bleed.
Inside, rinsing the cut under the tap,
I saw with wonder into my own flesh.

Thomas Bolt

"Six Descriptions" copyright (c) 1989 by Thomas Bolt. All rights reserved.

First published in Out of the Woods, Volume 84 of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, with a foreword by James Merrill; Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1989.

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