Readings in Contemporary Poetry

Amy Clampitt


Rest for the body's residue:
boxed ashes, earth pocket
under its lifted flap of turf
roofed by a black circumference
of Norway spruce, an old settler
now among old settlers, in their
numb stores' cooled silicates
the scar of memory benighted
alone articulate.

O friable repose of the organic!
Bark-creviced at the trunk's
foot, ladybirds' enameled herds
gather for the winter, red pearls
of an unsaid rosary to waking.
From the fenced beanfield,
crickets' brisk scrannel
plucks the worn reed of
individual survival.

Mulleins hunker to a hirsute
rosette about the taproot; from
frayed thistleheads, a liftoff
of aerial barbs begins; milkweed
spills on the wind its prodigal,
packed silks--slattern gondolas
whose wrecked stalks once
gave mooring to the sleep of
things terrestrial:

an urn of breathing jade, its
gilt-embossed exterior the
intact foreboding of a future
intricately contained, jet-
veined, spangle-margined,
birth-wet russet of the air-
traveling monarch emerging
from a torpid chrysalis. Oh,
we know nothing

of the universe we move through!
My dead brother, when we were
kids, fed milkweed caterpillars
in Mason jars, kept bees, ogled
the cosmos through a backyard
telescope. But then the rigor
of becoming throttled our pure
ignorance to mere haste
toward something else.

We scattered. Like the dandelion,
that quintessential successful
immigrant, its offspring gone
to fluff, dug-in hard-scrabble
nurtured a generation of
the mobile, nomads enamored
of cloverleafs, of hangars, of
that unrest whose home--our
home--is motion.

Here in the winds' terrain, the
glacier-abraded whetstone of their
keening knives, anvil of thunder,
its sabbaths one treacherous
long sob of apprehension, who
will rein in, harpoon or anchor
rest for the mind? Were the dead
to speak, were one day
these friable

residues to rise, would we hear
even that airborne murmur, Listen
as the monarchs' late-emerging
tribes ascend; you will hear
nothing. In wafted twos and threes
you may see them through the window
of a southbound Greyhound
bus, adrift across the
Minnesota border;

or in flickering clots, in dozens
above the parked cars of the
shopping malls of Kansas--this
miracle that will not live to
taste the scarce nectar, the
ample horror of another summer:
airborne marathon, elegaic
signature of nations who
have no language,

their landless caravans augment
among the blistered citadels
of Oklahoma; windborne along
the Dallas-Fort Worth airport's
utopian thoroughfares, their
hovering millenniums become
a mimic force of occupation,
a shadeless Vallombrosa,
forceless, autonomous.

O drifting apotheosis of dust
exhumed, who will unseal
the crypt locked up within
the shimmer of the chromosomes,
or harvest, from the alluvial
death-dance of these wrecked
galaxies, this risen residue
of milkweed leaf and honey,
rest for the body?

© 1987 Amy Clampitt