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A Hermit Thrush

2006-09-08 09:52

    Nothing's certain.  Crossing, on this longest day,

    the low-tide-uncovered isthmus, scrambling up

    the scree-slope of what at high tide

    will be again an island,

    to where, a decade since well-being staked

    the slender, unpremeditated claim that brings us

    back, year after year, lugging the

    makings of another picnic——

    the cucumber sandwiches, the sea-air-sanctified

    fig newtons——there's no knowing what the slamming

    seas, the gales of yet another winter

    may have done. Still there,

    the gust-beleaguered single spruce tree,

    the ant-thronged, root-snelled moss, grass

    and clover tuffet underneath it,

    edges frazzled raw

    but, like our own prolonged attachment, holding.

    Whatever moral lesson might commend itself,

    there's no use drawing one,

    there's nothing here

    to seize on as exemplifying any so-called virtue

    (holding on despite adversity, perhaps) or

    any no-more-than-human tendency——

    stubborn adherence, say,

    to a wholly wrongheaded tenet. Though to

    hold on in any case means taking less and less

    for granted, some few things seem nearly

    certain, as that the longest day

    will come again, will seem to hold its breath,

    the months-long exhalation of diminishment

    again begin. Last night you woke me

    for a look at Jupiter,

    that vast cinder wheeled unblinking

    in a bath of galaxies. Watching, we traveled

    toward an apprehension all but impossible

    to be held onto——

    that no point is fixed, that there's no foothold

    but roams untethered save by such snells,

    such sailor's knots, such stays

    and guy wires as are

    mainly of our own devising. From such an

    empyrean, aloof seraphic mentors urge us

    to look down on all attachment,

    on any bonding, as

    in the end untenable. Base as it is, from

    year to year the earth's sore surface

    mends and rebinds itself, however

    and as best it can, with

    thread of cinquefoil, tendril of the magenta

    beach pea, trammel of bramble; with easings,

    mulchings, fragrances, the gray-green

    bayberry's cool poultice——

    and what can't finally be mended, the salt air

    proceeds to buff and rarefy: the lopped carnage

    of the seaward spruce clump weathers

    lustrous, to wood-silver.

    Little is certain, other than the tide that

    circumscribes us that still sets its term

    to every picnic——today we stayed too long

    again, and got our feet wet——

    and all attachment may prove at best, perhaps,

    a broken, a much-mended thing. Watching

    the longest day take cover under

    a monk's-cowl overcast,

    with thunder, rain and wind, then waiting,

    we drop everything to listen as a

    hermit thrush distills its fragmentary,

    hesitant, in the end

    unbroken music. From what source (beyond us, or

    the wells within?) such links perceived arrive——

    diminished sequences so uninsistingly

    not even human——there's

    hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain

    as we are of so much in this existence, this

    botched, cumbersome, much-mended,

    not unsatisfactory thing.

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