The Wild Geese

to my husband

An unproblematic state is a state without creative thought. Its other name is death.
—David Deutsch

Rough work, hanging out
laundry in desert wind.
I got caught up in it.
Simple chore versus
crazed local element,
favored to win.
I moved clothespins
in strategic haste,
clamping in place
fresh-washed fabric
dripping spring chill.
Gusts slapped cloth
at my face, wrapped
it ’round my arms.
I wanted it done. And so,
I nearly missed them.

Before seeing, I heard.
A voice of the air. One voice,
two birds. Geese, a pair,
seeking mown fields to settle
down for the cold March night.
One had just said something
(that I’d heard) to the other.
The other replied in wing beats
of side-by-side flight.

Around them, evening
fanned plumes of its own.
Clouds and molted
shadows glowed shades
of lilac, the horizon’s notched
vanes, pink tones found
deep in layered petals
of a summer tea rose.
The familiar had turned
exotic bird of passage.
The whole beauty stopped
me, arms uplifted—
to hang my clothes.

Two birds, one flight,
their winging, a single act
done between them.
In seconds, they crossed
acres of purple dusk.
But the moment filled
to brim, quavered there.
I admit, I thought of us.

I’ve stood beneath them,
you know, wild geese,
less than a stone’s throw, up,
a chevron of six or seven.
Hollow bones, attached
sinews strumming musics
of flight; remiges, rectrices
moving them over me.
I saw it: the lead branta’s
head bend west-southwest,
deliberating on pastures
lying inside the visible mile.
I saw it: life’s wet glint
in a dark eye, and a gold fleck,
image of the setting sun.

Two birds; their flight;
day, soaring into night;
laundry, flapping on the line.
After the thrill of that all
(arms still raised
to pin the clothes),
ripples of the call
yet stirring, out of
a thicket of still green
and tangled grief
as if in rejoinder
darted wilder thought.

She will lose him,
it gossiped. Or he, her,
to fox-death, or to hunter
in marsh grass, hidden
from them in glare
off familiar waters.
Maybe to accident
that has no name, no
guessing of it, and so,
no way to avoid it.
Maybe to entropic
old age, she will lose
it said. Disease.

Next thing, I felt
my mind flying circles
over where it happened.
Calling. Calling.

Do you recall that
fiery soul, the cleric,
Dean of St. Paul’s,
who from a steeple
atop his gargoyled
cathedral of agitated
mind crowed, “Death,
be not proud”?

Through crooked brass
telescope of ornate
conceit he kept watch
on death’s ease in
public roadways
and private garden paths.
Four hundred years ago,
before penicillin,
before vaccines,
before chemotherapy
(itself but slighter
wraith than death).
Before the advent
of surgical skill, its
best-intention violence.
Before ICUs, like the ones
you found yourself in.

In that cleric’s time
death’s love of infant
flesh ruined one in ten
cradles, rough-hewn,
custom-crafted alike.
Took, from many
a mother lying abed
hay pallets, babe
from thin-milk breast.
Then took the woman.

Timber hut, cottage,
cruck house, vernacular
shelter built of local
earths, the merchant’s
stone abode, the fine
villa, the last of the
great halls and castles:
death walked plaguing
and septic as it wished.
Where wealth fitted tight
door to frame, death
slipped in on drafts
through cracks in social
niceties. More often,
in the not-so-niceties.

Four hundred years ago
death lacked restraint,
discretion, had only
symbolic nemeses
and doctrines to treat
for it, a sultry trade
in here for hereafter.
Kings and tyrants
wearing every pelt
of animal self-interest
appointed death mercenary,
defender of the lineage.
Yet men lived on average
twenty-five years less
than even you managed
my dear, you stolen one,
despite all death’s talons
hooked into you.

That poet perching there,
pigeons around him,
grey and mundane—
wind-literate swifts
dicing past, revealing
tangles in the uncombed
air, as other lofty flocks
that live life in odyssey
passed high overhead,
saw some stranger
overthrow of death’s
dark and wintry domain:
“Death, thou shalt die.”

Do you see it? There?
At the eye of such words
winks some other ambition
than journey’s end etched
into a migratory mind
crossing vales of tears,
some longer sight
penetrating eternal spring,
the reward of foregoing
this place for another.
He seemed to make out
over white shoulders
and blinding bright wings
of welcoming angels,
a glimmer just detectable
inside the visible mile
of his time. You see it
there, in an unusual wince
of wit. The poet seemed to
look through death itself,
to glimpse it lying, dead.

Since then, over those
four hundred years
of unchecked gluttony
measured in graveyards
and slums of bones long
vacant, as it has happened,
death indeed surrendered
lordship of many hectares
in a vast domain.

Four hundred years
from now, we may expect
another poet to proclaim
further demise in others of
death’s reliable plots.

Some will say we play
God. But in this one
thing it seems just natural
result of eating feral
fruits from the Tree
of Knowledge we’d
turn then and with
greater probing need
see into unmade depths
of the obvious world—
through to the Tree
of Life itself, every
nectar of remedy latent
in its honest fruits.

Death as extortion,
death as coercion,
death as interruption,
lifted off the earth.
Death as denier, denied.

But to close forever such
bedlams of decay we
need cease to fly the
troubled beauty of this
world for some (these days)
airbrushed perfection
of the next. We need
move closer to the center
of creative native but not
conspicuous birr in this
Earthen sphere. Need let
the sensation of it into our
bone and blood, need feel
its low rumble of profounder
amplitudes of being.

To protest it could
not be possible that
raw greater good
lies untouched in this
world, overlooked
but resplendent,
poised for mutuality
of our making, isn’t
that to bicker over God
being or not being God
even of two wild geese
that at great heights
and in spring wind’s
labyrinths seek furthering
of their fleeting lives?

And are we not wild geese
pursued by death and
the death that pursues them?

Winslow_Homer_-_Wild_Geese_in_Flight_(1897) Public Domain
Winslow Homer, Wild Geese in Flight (1897) Public domain
©2020 Patricia G. Karamesines



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