“The rite at the hunting site, given to the souls of the animal
killed, was thus basic, in the sense that it was addressed to its
soul-essence and the general fertility of the species.”
This is Weston LaBarre in The Ghost Dance, 1972. I keep driving by these run-over squirrels, and the distance between the rite LaBarre cites
our feel for dead animals today,
especially the ones we kill
they are glassy blood flesh black hair,
organs mashed, stripes of animal, no animal,
just mash, driven over again and again
Those sleeping along the sides of roads throughout America,
the sleeping squirrels, the sleeping chipmunks, the fat crushed woodchucks.
My own demise is singular. These are Whitmanian multitudes.
The white baby rabbit taking a nap, the beagle showing off its splayed groin,
all the animals
now waiting for the Rapture when we will cease to run them over.
We have lost the great omentum, the nutrient sac of compassion, renewal,
guilt for having killed,
(GIs killing Afghanis “for the hell of it”
in the news)
but the squirrel the squirrel we do not need the squirrel
so we flatten “it,” drive over “it”.
I’m enraged by something deeper than I can grasp
That prayer for renewal has been turned into disregard
Get to the cleaners on time.
August 1952, Indianapolis, terrible heat. Shortridge High School daily football practice, three hours in the morning, three in the afternoon. Full equipment. Our coach was George Gale, in tee-shirt, silver unpadded pants, with huge calves. He also wore anklets with snazzy low-cut cleated shoes. Someone said he had briefly been a professional field goal kicker. I’d get up at 7 A.M., breakfast and bicycle to the practice field. By 9 we were in our smelly full uniform. To then pound ourselves for three hours. I’d bicycle home for lunch. Mother made me creamed beef on toast, called in those days “Shit on a Shingle.” Bicycle back, get into the wet pads and jersey, out onto the field again. Gale strutting around as we moved into tackle lines.
One afternoon, behind me: Velmer Clark, who was black. Our class of ‘53 was the first one with blacks. Velmer I didn’t know. The heat was awful, my mouth bone dry. “No one ever drinks during practice,” George Gale had proclaimed.
Velmer reached down into his pants, into his jockstrap, and pulled out a half-sucked lemon. He offered it to me.
I took it, sucked quickly, looked at Velmer and, glancing around, handed it back to him.
I am proud that I did not refuse Velmer’s lemon.
From time to time I wake up in the middle of night and revisit that experience.
It happened so fast I had no time to think.
Maybe that is why it has haunted me for so many years, like a missing angel.
LES EYZIES, JUNE 2008
A viper sheep head in the rock face
(behind a boarded-up house
on Rue de la Préhistoire)
right eye a furrowÇatalhöyük hybrid!
The “speech” of this crag, its silent, prayerful snooze
How I am framed, sized, by what underlies.
The last time here?
The weight in my heart throughout this tour.
Here I was pressed into the penultimate three decades ago.
Starlings in flutter explore the viper sheep head facets.
Having walked below this crag so often on my way to the old
museum’s “power room,”
to stand below, on the street, now. And to acknowledge, once again,
the Upper Paleolithic’s reshaping of my life…
Ah, lenient atmosphere…
Breath-favorable sabbath of those hours…
But I did also not get here without Crane, whose seedbed massacre is
a runnel of tragic wheels, all void bound, slicing through Mexico,
battered Hart, majestic, pummeled, poor bugger, unable to survive.
To be, for a few moments, the humble attendant of
a viper sheep head altar.
To be vertical until the Vézère
pulls me home.
AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM, 11 APRIL 2007
That anything archaic exists today
attests to erasure’s unbowed adversary.
How do I know this perforated antler from La Madeleine
Because, half-buried in it, a horse is emerging,
eyeholes filled with ochre,
a dream of concentrated blood.
How do I know I am alive?
Because, half-buried in me, my death is cross-legged on
a cattail mat,
vertical carrion with illicit halo.
faith in the sun lathe
around which the rasp of mortality is grating
a microscopic tundra scene.
disc escape, to wear it
in my throat
[for Pierre Joris and Nicole Peyrafitte]