The hermit had been turning over rocks all morning. He poked under sunbleached wood, nosed into arid caves, looking for the as yet undiscovered part of himself called the soul. He could feel it hovering nearby. Its ache extended from him like a phantom limb.
It would be good to find it, he thought. Why else wander unbathed in the heat, eating locusts with their tinny aftertaste?
Or so his earthen mother seemed to insist when one ear was placed to her grassy plain.
Translation can be difficult when gleaning messages from the ground. The dearth of words allows for a more immediate exchange, but it’s possible she merely mentioned bison beyond the horizon. After picking the stems and grit from his ear, he wasn’t sure.
Then there is the question of the pleasure the hermit receives from his cock when he slips it into the ring to slice another bird into something like feathered ribbons. He knows this doesn’t exactly square with the hermit lifestyle but insists the sport has its subtleties.
Is it all a gamble? becomes his primal question mostly because he happened to ask it — but it is not compelling to the complacent majority, and thus he never receives his license allowing him to transition from hermit to prophet.
So, did he find his soul in the end, this hermit? Or did he secretly name some other invisible thing, like the wind, so as not to be declared wrong?
The Ambiguity Farm
They were preparing for a record-breaking yield before the rains came, nearly eight inches in thirteen days. Sometimes it came down so hard the sky went white; the horizon disappeared.
The evacuations were orderly. If you can say anything about the good people in that valley, it is that they understand the rule of law.
The waters crested twenty-four feet above flood stage. The brown current slid just beneath the eaves of houses, wrinkling around downspouts, kissing gutters. Tree limbs spun lazily in the water, green leaves clinging to their branches. The whole landscape seemed to be unrooted and sliding southward.
The farmers watched via television broadcasts in the emergency shelters, their faces as impassive as oak furniture. There’s not much that needs explaining to an ambiguity farmer. They have the patience of dried bones.
the earth shook and mountains were carried
into the midst of the sea— those who sought
refuge in caves drowned— so much stone into water
the sea level rose— tidal charts were adjusted—
strange acoustical soundings noted by whale-watchers—
the seafloor so unsettled submerged ears caught
the grating clack and grind sounding through cold
water for months afterward— the earth gritting its teeth—
a San Mateo man sank microphones and found
a pattern in the chatter of rock whetted on other rock—
a channel was established for the stream—
persistent as the arrhythmic grunting of swine—
yet played over loudspeakers it calmed mobs—
when the mountains finally settled people kept
on with their business and once again the earth
grew deceptively quiet.
Michael Bazzett’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, 32 Poems, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Best New Poets. He is the author of The Imaginary City (OW! Arts, 2012) and The Unspoken Jokebook (OW! Arts, 2014). His verse translation of the Mayan creation epic, The Popol Vuh, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2015. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.