Divide a day like an apple—seeds, skin, sweetness, denials and opportunities— and what have you got? Pieces, hunger, diversity? It never puts itself together or falls apart: a failed experiment in clarity.
Well, you say. I mean, what of it? A man may sit idly on a log with his feet in the sand while the endless river deepens like a teacup filling with tears: the fine lines in his face the map of his life, drawn easily, effortlessly, all as seamless and aloof and as whole as the marble, yearning finally for voices, vague and enduring, the music visible, fruitful.
The Butcher Bird
I don’t know which is worse, you said, Catholicism or Science. Better to be a marveller like Muir who admired the world in a wild-ass storm from the top of a reeling Douglas fir. “I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobolink on a reed.”
The northern shrike is sleek and smart and saves something for later. He impales the mouse, hangs it like a rosary from the hawthorn spine: a sharp rack for a small executioner in a tiny mask. He picks at his meal, opens up a bloody bit—clever, clever fellow engineering his neat table, then abandoning it for the pear tree in the orchard beyond the barn.
This morning it is minus three and half a mouse hangs frozen on the hawthorn prong, its tail too long for what’s left. Snow blows it sideways and in circles. The bird book says on lean days the shrike feeds from its larder, its song a subdued warble though the shrike is usually silent in winter.
I promise to save something—everything, if I’m lucky—for later, except my hyperbolic praise, my wild-ass grace at the table in the eye of the storm.
Window on the Columbia: Landscape with Birds
It comes and goes, the way white borders, then is, black on the magpie’s back. Or the way the refrigerator runs unnoticed until silence suddenly severs its illusion with itself and your jaw ungrips, your teeth unclench.
The March river stirs, undoes December’s work, carrying its cold luggage to an approaching shore, its disappearing ground. Ice is water, then ice again, undecided.
This windy day the gorge goes unreflected, straining for symmetry, its lost dimension. It is a reminder: some days are faceless: the way an eagle could easily be overhead, or a pair of ravens; as easily the sky is empty, without omen either way.
Again, the refrigerator. Across the room another window, south-facing. The snow retreats. You long to be the grass gaining ground, the robin arriving. Close-up the magpie’s feather is oily green, not black, and you have been deceived again. It continues in spite of you: this becoming, this unbecoming.
— previously published in The Louisville Review
Lynn Rigney Schott, a San Francisco Bay Area native and University of California graduate, has lived in eastern Washington since 1972. She taught high school English and creative writing for 20 years and lives near Kettle Falls, below Mingo Mountain, with views in all directions. The poems appear in her new book Light Years (Hawk & Handsaw Press, 2016).