"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Brazil, Indiana: January 1, 1968

 "Brilliant sun and... what?! It's four below!
Steps bare, walk bare, road bare. Any snow
nowhere now in sight or even mind —
save for a pair of cardinals, who find
finding any food a larger chore
than once it seemed — at dawn the day before.
Mama is asleep, and Unk's asleep, —
I'm the only one awake to keep
the faith with baby-back-last-springtime birds.
I pull on day-old socks, mouth age-old words,
look for a coat or anyhow a sweater
but finding nothing closer serving better
head out the door to bait the railing, railing
now against the cold, and now the failing
of man and beast and bird to make provision
for mornings just like this one. 'Lack of vision!'
grumble I, 'or is it lack of gumption...'
— and so I freeze in shirt sleeves, the assumption
being, I assume, that even grapenut
cereal will do, from this old taped-up
dusty cardboard box from back last spring.
 Not my favourite breakfast fare — I take
a cup of them with eggs and milk to make
the grapenut pudding great-grand-daddy liked,
or so I was informed when still a tyke
— not because the fact was that important,
but that I was his namesake. Now this portent
means more to the cardinals than me.
I see them waiting there impatiently
out where the dogwood branches brush the board
the Amish carpenters replaced ("the Lord
be thanked!"), a half-a-dozen years ago.
I spread the nubblets thick on ice as thin
as when, the cream just come to boil, the skin
of grapenut pudding forms and barely trembles
beneath its weight of grain. The birds assemble
in strict pecking order, as if Francis
 never preached to them at all. The dance is
still to be distinguished from the dancer.
And though the Lord we've thanked gives them no answer
(Yeats tells us God has not appeared to them),
they are content with grapenuts now to stem
the rumble in their tummies.

                                               Fifty years
have passed sin-" ...but I see she is in tears!
Yes, tears — but not of sorrow: righteous wrath
as I make way for her (the narrow path
accommodating only one of us)
she's making what I'd once have called "a fuss"
— "You murderer of birds! You ignoramus!
Didn't you know, you fool, you dolt, you same-as-
the harm you caused by feeding them?" She twirled
around and like to gave my face a slap!
And then she undertook my Education:
"Grape nuts are like junk food. They're a trap
that keeps the birds from moving on to where
there's food enough for them, and not to share
with folks the likes of you — birds aren't aware
that grape nuts aren't calorie-dense enough
to keep them well and healthy, and they stuff
themselves, and then don't even try to find
the food that serves them better. So the blind
lead on the blind, I guess." She shook her head
and left me there behind, the way the dead
are left behind and out of things. Like bread,
or crumbs of it, or thimblefuls of coffee
served not to birds-on-board but to the lofty
1% who dread the thought of skim
milk or else skim ice, or all the prim
reproaches that the latest like to make
when contemplating all their sins the last.
She's right, of course. I give my head a shake,
as if I'm shaking off the snow. The past.

 Oakland City, Indiana, USA: January 1, 2018

No comments:

Post a Comment