Three Poems by David Wagoner

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Among Driftwood

Trees haven’t come here to die. They’ve done that
            in other forests, on other coasts, having lost 
                        their leaves and their bark and come ashore 
by themselves on a five-mile sand spit. Branches 
            and split logs, upended stumps, roots in the wind, 
                        and in one small cove, someone 
with nothing better to do it with 
            has built a shack, then abandoned it—
                        a doorway, but no roof, accidental windows,
no hope of a foundation. It’s already 
            slumping back to what it was 
                        like a sandcastle. These parts of trees
have surrendered and been washed clean
            of imperfections. They won’t be judged
                        for punk knot, frost crack, pitch scab,
or heart rot by lumbermen. The stump outside
            the door has ninety rings on its face
                        and is looking good for more,
regardless of contractors. I remember
            shacks in the woods and shacks nailed up in trees
                        and along bent railroad tracks,
under new freeways, and up skid-road alleys
            where the impulse was to be half savage
                        or halfway civilized, to be where
no one could say, at least for a little while,
            Get out of there. Keep moving. Go away.
                        I crawl inside as if I’m coming home.



Road Kill

The three crows are scuttling back and forth 
            between the gutter and the dead possum
                        near the yellow-striped center
where commuters are trying hard not to encounter 
            anything but the road on the way to work 
                        this dark winter morning. The crows are hungry,
and their half-finished breakfast is no longer
            worrying about its share of the wealth, 
                        so it’s all theirs. Other birds, if down here 
on their own, on their own two feet, would panic instantly
            instantly seeing us rapidly approaching 
                        in our free-wheeling machinery,
but not these customers who’ve learned exactly 
            how much time and space are being offered 
                        between the violent edges 
of a snatch-and-grab breakfast. None of us
            bothers honking. We’ve grown accustomed 
                        to their evasions and skillful getaways,
their unflutterable manners in keeping this highway clear 
            of the evidence of our hurry to get somewhere, 
                        no matter what might be unable 
to get out of our road quickly enough. Sure, 
            later, in the middles of our day, 
                        we might slow down 
a little or even swerve, but it’s rush hour 
            for everyone involved in forward progress
                        except the possum. The crows know 
they have to take chances now 
            while there are still chances to take
                        and their share of the market is still open.



Natural Disasters

Long ago, we had to admit, in acquisitive English
the Romans knew what they were talking about
when they made a negative out of lucky stars
by labeling some of the deadly ones disasters,
and it’s in their very nature, naturally,
to be disastrous, to give even their most
distant inhabitants and poor dependents
hell now and then. Always, inevitably, as sure
as we happen to be born in the abnormal
course of events, more of them show up
at all the wrong times and places and occasions
with bad attitudes, ready to be that cave-in,
this lightning stroke, that twister, those earthquakes,
tsunamis, sudden rearrangements of shores
and mountains and half or whole continents,
and we’re expected to be theirs in sickness
and health in what we’ve dubbed forever
and a day with stars still in our eyes
and a star-like core still burning under our feet.




David Wagoner was born in Massillon, Ohio, in 1926. He has published 20 books of poems, most recently After the Point of No Return, (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). He has also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, two yearly prizes from Prairie Schooner, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. In 2007, his play First Class was given 43 performances at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. He was a chancellor of  the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop.

Driftwood photo on beach by John Wallwerth. courtesy Shutterstock.

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