Pushcart XLI: Jane Springer, “Walk” (poem) from Southern Review, Autumn 2015

The kill was accidental the coyotes did not want the meat the meat
didn’t want to be downed that day the rain charged the air
with negative ions we all felt great & walked, garnet crystals flanked
the washed-up creek wind-rush, you know that feeling
of no surveillance?

The speaker of the poem abstractly narrates some kind of leisurely venture into the countryside, and the encounter with… something dead. It’s only referred to as meat, life transformed into death to sustain life in a dramatization of the food chain. We never know exactly what the dead thing is, though there is mention of “cadmium vine down to chartreuse feather”. Is there a chartreuse bird in the wild?

The lack of punctuation in the first few lines, sentences overlapping, images all running together – the story of the coyote, the story of its prey – present nature without the separation into what is beautiful and what is not. The masterpieces of creation blend into the realities: everyone has to eat, including the coyote. But at the same time, another running together is presented, that of different ways to look at the little scene, differing interpretations, maybe different levels. Yes, there’s the predator and prey, but that idea is undermined by the insistence that the meat was not the point of this kill. Throughout the poem, there’s conflicting information about just what is going on: we don’t know what the dead thing was because it’s gone, and if so, doesn’t that mean the coyote took it for food? Or is it so mangled, it’s simply unidentifiable? I hope that wasn’t too graphic. But it’s a graphic poem, and it pulls no punches. And by the way, how does a coyote accidentally kill something?

Punctuation helps to guide our read midway through that first stanza.

It’s not as though the coyotes buttoned up their coyote suits that
morning plotting to leave a being childless. Whether fowl
or furred the mothers left their hymnals in their caves that day
the same as us—it’s not unusual, in fall, to come across
vermillion grasses in the rough part of the field path, but maybe
that’s why the coyotes fled the scene so fast: an eerie fear
the meat belonged to family, but which one?

So much is packed into this stanza: absolution for the coyote; the surprise of violence that is possible at every moment for all of us, human and animal; and that heartbreaking line about family. How do we divide families anyway? All life is related, it’s just a matter of how closely or distantly; we place a boundary at some point, and declare what’s inside is our family and what’s outside is not. Human history – and the very present – is full of violence over who belongs to which family. Even in conquest, does the coyote feel guilt? Or is the fear one of retribution? One is moral, one is practical, but does it matter to the prey? And are we still talking about coyotes, amidst all this language about suits, plotting, childlessness, hymnals, and family, or have we moved to a different level?

We see multiple references to the hunt, and the question, “you know that feeling of no surveillance?” turns up twice. The first time, it’s in reference to the speaker being far away from human support structures – 911, specifically cited – so there’s a touch of risk in the lack of surveillance. The second mention is in a very different context, and implies a more carefree attitude, a heedlessness of risk: “Having had no recent predators, the coyotes must have felt free walking the beat.” By this point I was almost sure that the poem was not, at heart, a nature poem; that nature was the canvas and the paint but the painting had a much broader implication. But I may be overreading.

Again, as with David Hernandez’ poem from last week, I noticed the colors, all described with vivid adjectives that, interestingly, are also nouns: garnet crystals, citron husk, tannic heart, vermillion grasses, cadmium vine, chartreuse feathers. I have no idea if this means anything, but it stood out enough to be noticed. I also see a connection with Robert Wrigley’s “Elk” from earlier in this volume: the use of brutal nature to illustrate humanity.

one might believe
each droplet held an icicle or spectacle for bearing witness
to what pack in nature lay our meat to waste. Rain accents cadmium
vine strung down to chartreuse feather—no lens does justice.
That’s why we took the walk, while shivering, & saw this meat
arrested, fresh, & glittering as if to plead a silent testament:
Aren’t you my kin? Whoever once walked aimless
 
in these woods now walks awake with me in death.

It’s one of those moments when I feel like trying to capture what I feel in words would distort it, maybe erase it; explanation, analysis would not do justice. The poem, a silent testament, stands: who is my brother? And families I never knew I had walk with me in death every day.

Advertisements