ELEGY FOR A SMALL CANVAS
Without end, in all kinds of inner weather,
cloud-drifts, heartsick blue, off-again, on-again
drizzle, the sound of a tarp on grass a welcome
weight, a welcome sound to my ears, the faint,
almost over sound of the crickets, still there,
not quite through with us yet, all the small leaves
holding on until the last, cigarettes aglow,
stare, pace, lean, flick ash into the oil
drum around which my grandfather’s help
warmed their hands, intimacies of cold weather,
ordinary dirt and ordinary staring,
the ordinary birth of each solitary breath,
the moon like the rim print of a heel in wet sand,
last year’s nest next year's absolute best guess,
need a high priority: word spread fast.
A kind of intimacy came about by August,
reading out loud to John. "The Shirt Poem"
got a quizzical look, "Baja" a nod,
the poetry a part of some larger hunger.
Like the boys who took to the old graveyard
with baseball bats. Like John trying to repair
each stone with epoxy. Like the young finch
blown from its nest, one of its wings missing,
a birth defect. I still remember it
as I first saw it, dragging itself
around that pine while I gawked, nothing to do
for it, or so I thought, but still
I wondered if I could have saved a life.
All summer I saw its body,
bits of bone and wing and then soil.
"Hunger": What I'm reading to John are some of Gerald Stern's poems.
"Elegy for a Small Canvas” got written, I'm sure, because I had been reading, on the advice of my teacher, Bill Olsen, Adam Zagajewski's Without End. That must have been where the first line of the poem came from.