Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Paul Muldoon

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17mcw


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In the way that most of the wind

Happens where there are trees,

Most of the world is centred

About ourselves.

Often where the wind has gathered

The trees together and together,

One tree will take

Another in her arms and hold.

Their branches that are grinding

Madly together and together,

It is no real fire.

They are breaking each other.

Often I think I should be like

The single tree, going nowhere,

Since my own arm cannot and will not

Break the other. Yet by my broken bones

I tell new weather.

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Every year they have driven stake after stake after stake

Deeper into the cold heart of the hill.

Their arrowheads are more deadly than snowflakes,

Their spearheads sharper than icicles,

Yet stilled by snowflake, icicle.

They are already broken by their need of wintering

These archers taller than any snowfall

Having to admit their broken shafts and broken strings,

Whittling the dead branches to the girls they like.

That they have hearts is visible,

The nests of birds, these obvious concentrations of black.

Yet where the soldiers will later put on mail,

The archers their soft green, nothing will tell

Of the heart of the mailed soldier seeing the spear he flung,

Of the green archer seeing his shaft kill.

Only his deliberate hand, a bird pretending a broken wing.

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That seed that goes into the ground

After the first cuckoo

Is said to grow short and light

Like the beard of a boy.

Though Spring was slow this year,

And the seed late, after that Summer

The corn was long and heavy

As the hair of any girl.

They claim she had no business being near a thresher,

This girl whose hair floated as if underwater

In a wind that would have cleaned corn, who was strangled

By the flapping belt. But she had reason,

I being her lover, she being this man's daughter,

Knowing of cuckoo corn, of seed and season.

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Father took me to one side,

Like the spider takes the fly.

Take the scythe, he said,

But never break the sharping stone.

Came noon father went away,

He could not contradict the heat,

He left me in the standing hay,

Careful with the sharping stone.

I slashed my wrist by the artery,

I am afraid of my own blood.

The scythe is laying on the hay,

The red is on the sharping stone.

The spider web will stop the blood,

I remember hearing father say.

The spider sleeps in the far hay shed,

I never broke the sharping stone.

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Seeing the bird in winter reflected in the sheet of ice,

She recalls that she once covered her walls,

('Carefully appointed mirrors create the illusion of depth')

From floor to ceiling with glass.

Later, she would have the 'carefully appointed mirrors' taken away.

'The thing ought not be bigger than the fact',

She would tell herself. Or, already spending the daylight hours in bed,

Say, 'I am alive because I am alive'.

For even then she believed herself native soil enough for herself,

Though already she rose only as the nights fell,

Quietly lifting the single bottle that stood on her step since morning,

The top repeatedly punctured by a thirsting bird.

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And of course I cried

As I watched him go away

Europe must have cried

For Europe had no more say

When America left her.

No other woman

Came between us. It seemed that

When I would lock the gleaming

Door against his weight,

It was the water in which

I showered that inter-

Vened. And the water that slopped

From the system he was meant

To have lagged. I overslept

That winter morning,

And had cause, I say,

For crying, when I walloped

Through the flooding house and saw

Him go. As Europe

Watched America, I watched.

Now my dreams are filled

With reconciliations.

Dreams I never willed,

Who have chosen the Ocean,

The Gulf Stream warming my heart.

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Through time their sharp features have softened and blurred

As if they still inhabited the middle distance,

As if these people have never stopped riding hard

In an opposite direction, the people of the broken lances

Who have seemed forever going back. Now they have willed this reservation,

It is as if they accept that they are islanders at heart,

As if this island running away to sea and seed, bartered

For with bright trinkets, has forever been the faroff destination

Of the bands of little figures on horseback returning, returning.

After the newspaper and television reports I remark

On how people can still be themselves, but each morning

Leaves me more grateful for the fact that they never attack after dark.

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The early electric people domesticated the wild ass;

They had experience of falling off.

Occasionally, they might have fallen out of the trees;

Climbing again, they had something to prove

To their neighbours. And they did have neighbours;

The electric people lived in villages

Out of their need of security and their constant hunger.

Together they learned to divert their energies

To neutral places; anger to the banging door,

Passion to the kiss.

And electricity to earth. Having stolen his thunder

From an angry god, through the trees

They had learned to string his lightning.

Burying the electric-poles

Waist-deep in the clay, they stamped the clay to healing;

Diverting their anger to the neutral,

The electric people were confident, hardly proud.

They kept fire in a bucket,

Boiled water and dry leaves in a kettle, watched the lid

By the blue steam lifted and lifted.

So that, where one of the electric people happened to fall,

It was accepted as an occupational hazard;

There was something necessary about the thing. The North Wall

Of the Eiger was notorious for blizzards;

If one fell there, his neighbour might remark, 'Bloody fool'.

All that would have been inappropriate,

Applied to the experienced climber of electric-poles.

'I have achieved this great height';

No electric person could have been that proud.

Forty feet, of ten not that,

If the fall happened to be broken by the roof of a shed.

The belt would break, the call be made,

The ambulance arrive and carry the faller away

To hospital with a scream

There and then the electric people might invent the railway,

Just watching the lid lifted by the steam;

Or decide that all laws should be based on that of gravity,

Just thinking of the faller fallen.

Even then, they were running out of things to do and see;

Gradually, they introduced legislation

To cover every conceivable aspect of the electric-pole.

They would prosecute any trespassers;

The high-up singing and alive fruit liable to shock or kill

Were forbidden. Deciding that their neighbours

And their neighbours' innocent children ought to be stopped

For their own good, they planted fences

Of barbed-wire around the electric-poles. None could describe

Electrocution, falling, innocence.

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