Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.
Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.
Poet William Stafford (1914-1993) was dedicated to the cause of pacifism, deeply in love with the natural world, and described himself as "one of the quiet of the land." His collection Traveling Through the Dark won the National Book Award in 1963, and he was the nation's Poet Laureate in 1970.
''We may feel bitterly," wrote Adrienne Rich, "how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out of control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us kinship where all is represented as separation."
"Atavism" is from Passwords by William Stafford (HarperCollins, 1991). The Adrienne Rich quote is from "Defy the Space That Separates" (The Nation, Oct 1996). All rights reserved by the authors' estates.