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Bare of Laurel They Live


…pity these have not
Trac’d upon vellum or wild Indian leaf
The shadows of melodious utterance.
But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die…

- John Keats, "The Fall of Hyperion – A Dream"

Bare of laurel they live,
The deer bedded down
In the meadow about to be
Mown, the cattle grazing,
The sound like nurses
Tearing cloth into bandages
In wartime, the flock of
Geese that never fails to
Forget this field, the mare
The boys give a crabapple to
Before the vet puts her down
And the worm secreted
In its sweet flesh, the fox
The farmer sees while fixing
The fence the deer ran through,
Assisted by the dog, burs
In her red fur, just beginning
To gray, the barn cats
In their generations, carrying
Stunned kittens by the skin
Of the neck because the boys
Found where she hid them,
Or crouched in honeysuckle
Hunting, or waiting outside
The milk house for alms,
The black ones crossing
The hired hand with bad luck,
The hired hand, whose bald
Head is bare of laurel
And who lives in the double-
Wide back of the house,
Dreaming a day will come
When the farmer's sons
Will die and he alone stand
To inherit all this. No
Creature or character in all
Of Pearl County wears
A crown of laurel.
Not the men who spend
Their mornings drinking
Coffee at the counter
Of The Oasis, ogling
The waitresses and waiting
For warmups. Not the man
Who picks up dead animals
Or the veterinarian
Or the milk hauler
Or the mailman
Or the breeder who
Every spring brings
The ring-nosed bull.
Bare of laurel they all live.
The closest this county
Comes to a laureate
Is summer evenings
The boys walk into the meadow
From which the deer
Have been scared to make
Crowns of clover and pretend
They are princes
And this their kingdom.
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Thomas Merton's Last Words


So I will disappear
from view and we
can all have a coke
or something.
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With Some, Death Grows Suddenly


With some, death grows suddenly
impatient, after being made
to wait so long, like a groom
who bursts into the room
to find his bride still pinning
up her hair, and takes her
before she's been given.
Later, the guests will whisper
of the cold draft they felt
when the two came up the aisle,
saying, "She smiles now but when
all this is over, the bottles
taken to recycling, the dress
hung in darkness, the bouquet
wilting in the room of the young
girl who caught it, it will hit her
like an open hand,
the mistake she's made."
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Cow Bell In a Pasture


Standing upright, the tongue hangs still,
yearning for the sides like a young woman
yearning for horizons. The way it landed,
a little askew, there is room under one corner
for beings of a certain size to slip through.
Sometimes a cricket will enter, feel solemn,
question whether to, then play a note that echoes
so strangely he packs up his fiddle and leaves
the strange cathedral. In summer fireflies come
illuminate the walls like archeologists
looking for petroglyphs in a cave. And always
there is a faint light that falls through the place
where the brass was broken to make the ring.
The bell keeps a square of this pasture snowless
and grassless through the year, and has ever
since the days cows wore bells. It is only a matter
of time until a boy finds it and it will have
joyous days again, a second youth, like a widower
who remarries late in life. But more likely
it will sing again in the belly of a backhoe's claw
and be buried dumb, packed as full of dirt
as the handles of a coffin. Only when it is
taken from or buried under this pasture
will one be able to say that all it stands for
has finally vanished: the one who wore this
one last, and the man who stood at the gate
so many mornings, listening, until the day
it fell off, and she came unheralded behind
the others, appearing silent out of the mist,
so that seeing her he felt strange, alive again
to the mystery, then said, "Well, where's your bell?"
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B Side


Something’s wrong
with his mother again.

She’s put on that lipstick
and a Christmas record

in June. When she falls
asleep with the flyswatter

in her hand, it falls to him
to turn it over.

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Stung By a Dead Bee


I’d seen it before,
curled up on the floor
like a sleeping child,
but thought
nothing of it.
I was so lonely
in that city even
the minuscule dead
kept me company.

Later, searching
for socks,
I felt that dawning
pain that seems
to be perpetually
about to be.
Wild that something
dead can still
make the living suffer.

But I didn’t feel
any anger.
It hadn't meant to
sting me.
Nor did I feel
the guilt of knowing
the bee must die now,
its abdomen
and digestive tract
and muscles
and nerves
pulled out
with the stinger.
The bee was dead.
It couldn’t have been
any deader.

And I’m glad now,
now that the pain's
gone, that I gave
the bee the chance
to use what
it never had a chance
to in life.
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