Get your compass and your sharpest knife ...
– John Gorka
Wind shear over mountain grass
does not spook the feeding animal,
yet its legs collapse at the end
of the length of a wind-sounding arrow.
A shadow falls where blood is pooling,
and a man's face, mirrored
poorly in a dead buck's eye,
changes shape as the night comes on.
The man will write of this;
he will turn Southern State acreage
into animal heaven, fenced with nylon
strings strained to open tuning
by six post-riding swamp birds,
bright as machine heads.
From two wars and fifty game seasons,
winged then grounded, with blood
in the yellow crosswires of his eyes,
he worked earth and air
for the trace elements of desire:
on platforms nailed high
into deciduous light; on the gun-
metal blue skin of rivers
printed with trout rings and a poised
oar blade, in the spoorless myth
of the last Arkansas timberwolf…
He knew the position of the gland
that releases the hormone of death,
and he tapped his plated skull
as if testing the density
of a blighted sugarmelon; as if
taunting some well-established,
word-addled ghost of the head.
He could read, in the tapering
kinesiology of flayed water
moccasins, the concentric,
height-defining circles on a map
of the Blue Ridge Mountains,
and then he’d go, into the trees
and sky for days, laying traps
for language in unlikely places:
in a clearing after a murder of crows
had abandoned their whirling dervish;
in balled prisms of nettle water;
par under pines where the wolverine
bleeds its thread of pheromones.
And once, beside a river,
watching the surface-mouthings
of a steelhead, he sat without moving
until the fish had turned to words,
then he stood, cleared a difficult
syntax of finned reeds and bubbles
from his mouth, and fired
one last invective at the deep
image work of his contemporaries.
When death came at him
from downwind of a hospital bed,
it did not wear bright plumage,
scales or fur. When the shadow-lines
of trees passed over him, they did not
seem the skeletons of animals,
as he would have made them
in some other time, on a sleepless
night watch over deskwood.
But when sunset skinned the wall
of the ward, there appeared, betwee
bed posts propped like a pair
or cast iron fire dogs, flamelight
from a stone-bordered hearth
in Carolina, and he saw himself
lying down in wet clothes, cold
and steaming, drained of poetry
at the end of another season.