Contents | September 2002
More on poetry from The Atlantic Monthly.
Also by Stanley Plumly:
John 6:17 (2001)
The Marriage in the Trees (1996)
Will Work for Food (1993)
In Answer to Amy's Question What's a Pickerel (1990)
The Atlantic Monthly | September 2002
Hear Stanley Plumly read this poem (in RealAudio)
by Stanley Plumly
A murder of crows,
what I saw on a spindle of dead white oak,
two or three of them, at different times,
hectoring the head of the sick one,
the old one, the weak one apart.
From school those Eskimo stories
in which leathery grandfathers and grandmothers
are left behind or set afloat.
They'd freeze, Mr. Steinman said, from the extremities in.
Thinking about what they must have been thinking,
I imagined the brain last
on the ascending list—
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow
I read, in chilling poetry,
years later. Even at twelve,
the concept seemed distant, efficient,
in keeping with the clarity
and killing cold of vast, undifferentiated arctic spaces.
In keeping with the landscape of the old.
In the language of the desert Navajo,
the old man didn't drown,
the water came up to get him.
That's how I imagined freezing,
as a kind of incremental drowning,
a sort of slow, word-by-word submersion,
then, at last, the pulling under, rings on water.
The killed crow fell the sixty feet in seconds,
less, though in the while it took
to find it, it had moved. My mother,
alive in the machine,
becalmed on hard white sheets,
the narrative of legs, arms,
animal centers stilled,
some starlight in the mind glittering off
and on, couldn't tell me
whether or not to leave her.
Stanley Plumly's most recent book is Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me (2000). A Distinguished Professor at the University of Maryland, Plumly recently won an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; September 2002; Mercy; Volume 290, No. 2; 103.