To the Race of Giant Fiberglass People Standing in Front of Illinois Businesses
I want you to know I honor
each of you, how your shadows
fully cross our streets
just after dawn, how you
never bend to ridicule,
or to rain, how you never lower
your standards, or your arms.
Plato wanted humanity to
be like you. But even he
would fail beneath your gaze.
For once you are bolted
to your mortared foundations,
you're as solid as any brown–
stone bridge. Still often I wonder
whether your people miss
you, those you left behind
on some fiberglass Atlantis?
Do they mourn the loss
of their diaspora, far off
selling tires in Peoria or
cheeseburgers in Wilmington?
But let no one deny your
inner life, for frequently I see,
going in and out, the sparrows
carrying shreds of plastic,
dry grass, and later seeds. For
deep inside of every giant,
recreated this and every spring–
those warm and tender nests
of downy, beating hearts.
On the Burlington Formation
In Fifty-Five, the roads Joe Fay built were straight
and hard, and weathered to gold under August sun.
Yes, Streets of Gold, in Hancock County, Illinois!
But nobody said "paved with gold," no. We never
said that. No. Paved with Burlington Limestone
is what they were. Paved with fossil crinoid stems,
but here's the thing, with iron, too. But not like
the iron Joe'd seen in rails running through Topeka,
but molecules dissolved in a prehistoric sea that
settled, accreted on and among those rotting animals
looking like lilies. Yes, like lilies roughly fallen
from a parlor table where a loved one's body
had been laid out for viewing. A mother weeping.
A father silent. His little daughter, bereft in shadows,
clutching the back of his pant leg, peering out,
while a somber chain of neighbors sidles in,
around the table. Glancing. Weeping. A bent knee.
Shaking. A hug. It all blurs for her. She
wants to fall asleep, into a sleep of years, a sleep
so long, so long, she could turn to limestone.
The Burlington Limestone stretches across Missouri,
but don't look, as you won't find it, along the
Ozark Uplift, above which its strata eroded clean away.
But look for it in western Illinois, from Quincy
and up past Monmouth, where you might see
in the Old Pioneer Cemetery a limestone marker,
from a group now fallen over, or knocked down
by vandals :
Are these the family who died in days
of one another? A sleigh accident, was it a sleigh?
Did you hear of that family who died together?
They are buried here somewhere.
: I don't know,
but the marker still standing has a trace of iron
in it, on it, like a bloodstain from a wound. Not red,
though, not red. And not the deep rust color of
new dried blood. Not even pink. No, it's a kind of tan,
a golden trace, like blood on cotton cloth that's been
washed a hundred times, scrubbed on a washboard,
the mother's hands growing red, as red as her eyes.
And when the sun shines on it, when the sun shines,
it glows like gold we have read about in Heaven.
Surprised by Phenology[ * ]
And now I am so lonely
For the air I want to breathe.
- James Wright (from "An Elegy
for the Poet Morgan Blum")
They did not tell me that the very
air around me
would change in the last decade of my life:
like radio waves inside it would begin deflecting
to me or away,
according to an oak leaf's pitch
or how a cloud skidded above the Illinois River;
that I would want to inhale chilled air
the same time my feet
wished breaths warmed by orange zest
or the spores of Spanish moss;
that a certain kind of breeze,
with less warning than a storm, might settle
like crows in treetops all around me
to bring on relentless sobbing; or
that, in these eldering years,
a steel gray blast could afflict
the sprouting branch of everything I wanted–
with bewilderment, with wordlessness,
with distances beyond measure on maps
–of these changes, I swear, I was never warned.
Dumbly now, I listen for
the beginning of the barred owls' mid-winter silence,
how they protect their young
by calling no attention to their nest.
And so I hover, too,
like a cautious parent, like a motionless atmosphere,
like a blanket of earth
piled alongside my hatchling grave.
[ * Phenology is the study of periodic natural cycles. ]