Excerpts from The Heron Place

To the Reader: “The Heron Place” is a long poem or poem-sequence that explores memory and landscape – the idea of “place” – mixing it with personal reflection and experiences of loss and love. Here are some sections that try storytelling/mythmaking as one way we weave ourselves into the land.

This poem was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize in 1999 (sections published in Nimrod International). Contact me if you’d like a copy. —David Oates

- V -

gods have walked each inch of the earth
(young Rama was taught)
and every place is holy

if we but knew the tales

* * *

yes walked
but in what flesh?
what skin or fur or root?

since godstuff is coy
(all the stories say) and often mistaken
for dusty visitors with staves
eagles doves
birds of all kinds apparently

apparently seethed with godhead yet
abiding our roads, our stench
occasionally selecting (too fast for defense)
Greek boys
Galilean virgins
the odd watcher on a quiet hillside
to marry their molten beauty to and forsake

* * *

a flicker’s wing calls
orange retreat deep into pines

branches empty of all but waver
and a sweet echo among
lingering turpentines

sun visits the pinestraw
moving negligently
through an afternoon

maybe I will drowse
pillow on a blue knapsack
beneath the tall sway

slumber through whatever
strokes skin or
whispers dreaming

* * *

once a youthful god of fire
exploiting some buried twist or flaw
in the dark Allburdening One
tricked his way to the surface
where we walk

spouted into sunlight and rain
and became this hill, and later
lent himself to forests, took to wandering
as rivers, dallied with filagree of fern
and yellow elaboration of wing and song
until dreaming so many dreams he forgot
his own undersoil slumbering as a hill of stone

* * *

and once, later on, a word started here
and storied tall as fir trees and listeners

weaving bones of stones and sounds of wind
wild in the god’s grassy hair and almost-forgotten limbs
and he was this also
lasting long into the night-tellings like
sparks flung upwards to the stars

* * *

young Rama heard such things as these
he was a god himself, it turned out, who needed

and as he remembered them the earth
grew flowers where he walked

- VI -

O muir american, seeking wilderness
where on earth no one has forerun you

(while from the next ridge
watch thousand-generation eyes
made of the earth of the place)

fantasied emptiness
to be filled one first time
by your tumescent pioneer

O muir american
as you imagined, it has become

for no-story is its own kind of tale
wherever you walk

* * *

yet leaves tread sunshine into soil
humans burn and village, vanish and reappear
animals exist their part of the burden
narratives of forest and brushland unfold
fallow and flower, footpad and wing
suffering and delight and darkness

the eldertale

this silly solo yarn of yearning
can only for a while unravel it

* * *

and didn’t I muir smugly off your trail
a clattering emporium of aluminum and vanity

didn’t I think in your footsteps
maybe here no one has ever been
maybe here at last the virgin wilderness

never making the connection
where there is no past
why should there be a future
if everything can begin right now
it can end now too

deflowered, deforested,
merriwethered, booned,

* * *

the wilderness commodity rises and falls, unstable,
endangered, hoarded, almost used up
artifice thin as theory, a form of money

while the wild renews itself
in every pulse
prolix as a poet
incontinent as a teenager
as the black interstellary god-space between us

the wild
in batholith, beach sand, well-palmed cobble
the wild
in ant-pinched bud and phloemy stem
risen whole handsbreadths to the heavens
the wild
in sky-float seedlet like a hopeful asterisk
or bruised pome thudding groundward with the others
the wild
in weedlot and forest and freeway median,
sandy waste, peak-point, and salt-deep sea
in dreams and three-part inventions, wasps nests, wrensong,
saintly or libertine excess or restraint

unhurried, unabated, mildly poisoned, buggy, tattered, unconcerned
the wild
and weaves
and waits

* * * * *


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