I might have plundered / thunder / from a tick’s back

I might have swigged / existence / from a tulip’s bell

Christian Wiman, "Given a God More Playful" from Issue 7

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Claire Bateman

Claire Bateman’s books are The Bicycle Slow Race (Wesleyan, 1991), Friction (Eighth Mountain, 1998), At the Funeral of the Ether (Ninety-Six Press, 1998),Clumsy (New Issues, 2003), Leap(New Issues, 2005), and Coronology and Other Poems (Etruscan Press, forthcoming). She has received grants and fellowships from the NEA, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the Surdna Foundation. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina.


Tree Talk

Everywhere in town you hear:
“The forest’s on the move again”—
our forest! 
Not ours, exactly,
but we feel it to be so,
since its visitation
ensnares our limbs
as, at every crosswalk,
neighbors duck and flinch,
weaving carefully through,
nothing at all— 
forgive me, I’ve neglected to describe 
our forest’s unparalleled clarity
from pine-tips to underbrush,
its streams, its spiders,
its (presumably) spotted fawns 
tremulous, poised for flight—
“Our transparent forest,”
I should have said! 
Impossible, of course,
to hide, to hunt, to lose one’s way!
Thus, we are reduced
to uneasy picnics in a vitreous shade
not wholly without shimmer. 
Then, just as we’ve begun to settle in, 
discerning where to place our feet,
grope for berries,
seek out the heaviness of honeycomb, 
with a rustle and groan,
it’s gone,
having abandoned us
to elsewhere bear 
its rough and leafy patronage,
its boughs of varying heft,
which our clumsy passings-through
had forced back till they rebounded,
scoring our faces  
even as they sprinkled us
with resin-dew
(or,  in that woods’ itinerant winter,
mild scatterings of unseen snow). 


Unearthing the Sky

It was filthy, of course,
with red clay streaks & embedded chips of loam,
as well as boulder-scored, chipped,
& even fractured in places,
a great big glorious suffering thing
further damaged
by the very means of its rescue,
the violence of pulleys & clamps.
Areas that had been dredged from under water
were warped & bowed
where detonation had been necessary
to dislodge them.

But there it was for everyone to behold.
Toddlers wearing tiny government-issued hard hats
were told, Look, honey, it’s the sky!
Older children were bussed on field trips to the dig site
where yellow tape kept them from the rim
so that the sign could continue to announce,
Round-the-clock floodlights discouraged those
who might have attempted to make their mark
on the sky’s broken body—
graffiti artists & would-be inscribers of the Ten Commandments,
corporate representatives & long-distance pissers,
as well as those who longed to plunge into it—
scuba divers, suicides, mystics, & lovers.

Everything was so lit-up, in fact,
that the sky would have been glad
of some darkness,
but it was not yet well enough
to generate nighttime & other weathers.
There had to be years of repair work
with everything from lasers to sandpaper,
tiny camel’s-hair brushes to welding torches.
Millions of stitches, hand-sewn
with microsuturing needles,
zigzagged across the surface
to eventually either dissolve
or be severed by army ants
genetically engineered to find them tasty.
The surgeons injected implants
of liquid mercury, black diamond plasma,
& other substances whose identities
they were not at liberty to disclose.

But at last, the sky was ready.
After all it had been through,
was it still the sky it had once been?
Not exactly, but were not the people
historically damaged as well—
& wasn’t there the matter
of loyalty?
So the various bolts, pegs, & screws
were removed,
releasing the sky at last
into its own silence.
Everyone watched as it rose,
a little shaky at first, but soon,
nearly as translucent, dizzying,
dimensionless, disturbing, etc.
as they’d anticipated.

When asked why she wept,
one woman could say only,
For something so heavy, it seemed
almost painfully light.
Abandoned, the work site still yawns
like the morning after Christmas.