The Book of Failed Descriptions
truth without fact.
Myth is birth and pleasure, teeth and death,
sharp shiver of that which is broken.
Myth is patriarchal and worn,
full of fratricide and rape.
Myth is a garden, makes good television,
the scandal of animals
coupling beneath the stars.
Myth is crow eating roadkill and dodging the occasional cars,
a pile of guts and bones.
Myth is carrying the body back to the den.
–Close your eyes and count to ten.
“In language, there are always two.”
stolen from Thoreau’s cabin,
the only thing taken
during those years.
Remember, too, The Aenied
(we all have lived
through times of war)
and that passage
a friend said to know well,
“Learn fortitude and toil from me, my son,
Ache of true toil. Good fortune learn from others.”
Ultrasound images of my heart.
That it moves and moves
and then moves again,
to make up for one bad valve.
Spots in the ocean
where nothing lives
and yet there is movement,
I stand in the river
fishing and watching an osprey
slide through the air
ten feet above the water.
I hear those wings.
Eleven years of loving
can’t just vanish. I have photographs.
I have facts. “Hapy Birthday
Dady” scribbled on a card.
How easy to sit at a desk
and not see the full moon
through the window.
Roy Sullivan, Virginia Park Ranger,
struck by lightning seven times,
kills himself after being dumped by a lover.
“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.”
A friend asks, “Why are you hiding in myth?”
I gather a lock of his hair,
a scrap of T-shirt, a baby tooth,
his tiny spoon, a diaper pin with a blue plastic stork,
the quilted blanket, his first steps,
hands clutching my fingers, the long night
when his fever rose to 104˚,
his split lip at age six when he jumped with outspread
arms, the first shoe, a locket with a toddler photo,
first day of school, first finger painting,
the green cardboard sculpture
like something shaped by Breton, T-ball
games, the flopping trout he squeezed too hard,
his first broken bone, his fear when he felt
my trembling hands trying to tell him
something about the sun.
Trout with a slashed back
where talons tore dorsal flesh
and the flesh slipped
from an osprey’s grip
to a lucky landing
in the creek’s waiting water,
thrashing and calming,
lingering beneath a deep cutbank,
and weeks later,
taking my elk hair caddis
completely out of the water.
On the far bank, a muskrat
struggles and does a melodramatic gangster fall
into the creek where it splashes
and sinks. “Rattlesnake,”
my friend says, and I nod
and stare at where the ripple
swirls into the current
and think about sinking bones.
The court acknowledges the petitioner’s long involvement with
_________’s life and sincerely hopes that the parties involved
will have the generosity and wisdom to honor that relationship.
Do not blame the wind
that scatters apple blossoms
ruthlessly. Allow that flowers
desire farewell blessings
before their time has come.
Fishing in the desert creek
a few days after the hearing,
I find bones, steer skulls
with round sockets for horns,
and step near three rattlesnakes,
almost grab a fourth
when climbing a steep bank.
The snakes were sluggish, though,
late spring when the temperatures
in the desert dipped into the thirties
at night. Only one rattled,
and the rain of the previous days
made the fishing terrible, water brown
and swift. I didn’t get a bite
and drove home, bought
a bucket of fried chicken,
and ate in front of the television
his clothes still hanging in a closet.
There is no
end to the hours
when cedars and peaks
scratch the sky’s belly.
but sometimes, wildflowers.
Sometimes, fish hold against
the river’s current
then dart with a silvery
on the other shore
for a moment,
then hunch toward
Ready or not
here I come—
A feather floats downstream,
the rings of a ripple smooth.
Love is possible. The heron
hunts in the shallows with slow
deliberate steps, startles
from the creek, and rises.
Sunlight warms basalt walls
fields of sage, and Hawthorne
groves, here, where tumble-
weeds rove for home.
Tod Marshall, "The Book of Failed Descriptions" from The Tangled Line. Copyright © 2009 by Tod Marshall. Reprinted by permission of Canarium Books.
Source: The Tangled Line (Canarium Books, 2009)
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Poet Tod Marshall
POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern
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