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Pattiann Rogers


Being Accomplished


Balancing on her haunches, the mouse can accomplish
Certain things with her hands. She can pull the hull
From a barley seed in paperlike pieces the size of threads.
She can turn and turn a crumb to create smaller motes
The size of her mouth. She can burrow in sand and grasp
One single crystal grain in both of her hands.
A quarter of a dried pea can fill her palm.

She can hold the earless, eyeless head
Of her furless baby and push it to her teat.
The hollow of its mouth must feel like the invisible
Confluence sucking continually deep inside a pink flower.

And the mouse is almost compelled
To see everything. Her hand, held up against the night sky,
Can scarcely hide Venus or Polaris
Or even a corner of the crescent moon.
It can cover only a fraction of the blue moth's wing.
Its shadow could never mar or blot enough of the evening
To matter.

Imagine the mouse with her spider-sized hands
Holding to a branch of dead hawthorn in the middle
Of the winter field tonight. Picture the night pressing in
Around those hands, forced, simply by their presence,

To fit its great black bulk exactly around every hair
And every pin-like nail, fored to outline perfectly
Every needle-thin bone without crushing one, to carry
Its immensity right up to the precise boundary of flesh
But no farther. Think how the heavy weight of infinity,
Expanding outward in all directions forever, is forced,
Nevertheless, to mold itself right here and now
To every peculiarity of those appendages.

And even the mind, capable of engulfing
The night sky, capable of enclosing infinity,
Capable of surrounding itself inside any contemplation,
Has been obliged, for this moment, to accomodate the least
Grasp of that mouse, the dot of her knuckle, the accomplishment
Of her slightest intent.


Justification of the Horned Lizard


I don’t know why the horned lizard wants to live.

It’s so ugly—short prickly horns and scowling

Eyes, lipless smile forced forever by bone,

Hideous scaly hollow where its nose should be.


I don’t know what the horned lizard has to live for,

Skittering over the sun-irritated sand, scraping

The hot dusty brambles.  It never sees anything but gravel

And grit, thorns and stickery insects, the towering

Creosote bush, the ocotillo and its whiplike

Branches, the severe edges of the Spanish dagger.

Even shade is either barren rock or barb.


The horned lizard will never know

A lush thing in its life.  It will never see the flower

Of the water-filled lobelia bent over a clear

Shallow creek.  It will never know moss floating

In waves in the current by the bank or the blue-blown

Fronds of the water clover.  It will never have a smooth

Glistening belly of white like the bullfrog or a dew-heavy

Trill like the mating toad.  It will never slip easily

Through mud like the skink or squat in the dank humus

At the bottom of a decaying forest in daytime.

It will never be free of dust.  The only drink it will ever know

Is in the body of the bug.


And the horned lizard possesses nothing noble—

Embarrassing tail, warty hide covered with sharp dirty

Scales.  No touch to its body, even from its own kind,

Could ever be delicate or caressing.


I don’t know why the horned lizard wants to live.

Yet threatened, it burrows frantically into the sand

With a surprisingly determined fury of forehead, limbs

And ribs.  Pursued, it even fights for itself, almost rising up,

Posturing on its bowed legs, propelling blood out of its eyes

In tight straight streams shot directly at the source

Of its possible extinction.  It fights for itself,

Almost rising up, as if the performance of that act,

The posture, the propulsion of the blood itself,

Were justification enough and the only reason needed.


                                    -from The Tattooed Lady in the Garden


The Voice of the Precambrian Sea


During the dearth and lack of those two thousand

Million years of death, one wished primarily

Just to grasp tightly, to compose, to circle,

To link and fasten skillfully, as one

Crusty grey bryozoan builds upon another,

To be anything particular, flexing and releasing

In controlled spasms, to make boundariesreplicating

Chains, membranes, epitheliumsto latch on with power

As hooked mussels now adhere to rocky beaches;

To roll up tightly, fistlike, as a water possum,

Spine and skin, curls against the cold;

To become godlike with transformation.


And in that time one eventually wished,

With the dull swell and fall of the surf, to rise up

Out of oneself, to move straight into the violet

Billowing of evening as a willed structure of flight

Trailing feet, or by six pins to balance

Above the shore on a swollen blue lupine, tender,

Almost sore with sap, to shimmer there,

Specific and alone, two yellow wings

Like splinters of morning.


One yearned simultaneously to be invisible,

In the way the oak toad is invisible among

The ashy debris of the scrub-forest floor;

To be grandiose as deserts are grandiose

With punctata and peccaries, Joshua tree,

Saguaro and the mule-ears blossom; to be precise

As the long gleaming hairs of the gourami, swaying

And touching, find the moss and roughage

Of the pond bottom with precision; to stitch

And stitch (that dream!) slowly and exactly

As a woman at her tapestry with needle and thread

Sews each succeeding canopy of the rain forest

And with silver threads creates at last

The shining eyes of the capuchins huddled

Among the black leaves of the upper branches.


One longed to be able to taste the salt

Of pity, to hold by bones the stone of grief,

To take in by acknowledgment the light

Of spring lilies in a purple vase, five white

Birds flying before a thunderhead, to become

Infinite by reflection, announcing out loud

In one's own language, by one's own voice,

The fabrication of these desires, this day

Of their recitation.


                                    -from Splitting and Binding