Text of the Poem

(Poetry for Students)

In the evening
haze darkening on the hills,
of the eternal, a last bird
crosses over, ‘flop flop,’ 5
only the instant.

Nine years ago,
in a plane that rumbled all night
above the Atlantic, 10
I could see, lit up
by lightning bolts jumping out of it,
a thunderhead formed like the face
of my brother, looking nostalgically down
on blue, 15
lightning-flashed moments of the Atlantic.

He used to tell me,
‘‘What good is the day?
On some hill of despair
the bonfire 20
you kindle can light the great sky—
though it’s true, of course, to make it burn
you have to throw yourself in . . . ’’

Wind tears itself hollow
in the eaves of my ruins, ghost-flute 25
of snowdrifts
that build out there in the dark:
ravines into which night sweeps
our torn wings, our ink-spattered feathers. 30

I listen.
I hear nothing. Only
the cow, the cow
of nothingness, mooing
down the bones. 35

Is that a
rooster? He
thrashes in the snow
for a grain. Finds
it. Rips 40
it into
flames. Flaps. Crows.
bursting out of his brow.

How many nights must it take 45
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird which flies out of its ashes,
that for a man
as he goes up in flames, his one work 50
to open himself, to be
the flames?