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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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