THE ELECTRIC ORCHARD
The early electric people had domesticated the wild ass.
They knew all about falling off.
Occasionally they would have fallen out of the trees.
Climbing again, they had something to prove
To their neighbours. And they did have neighbours.
The electric people lived in villages
Out of their need of security and their constant hunger.
Together they would divert their energies
To neutral places. Anger to the banging door,
Passion to the kiss.
And electricity to earth. Having stolen his thunder
From an angry god, through the trees
They had learned to string his lightning.
The women gathered random sparks into their aprons,
A child discovered the swing
Among the electric poles. Taking everything as given,
The electric people were confident, hardly proud.
They kept fire in a bucket,
Boiled water and dry leaves in a kettle, watched the lid
By the blue steam lifted and lifted.
So that, where one of the electric people happened to fall,
It was accepted as an occupational hazard.
There was something necessary about the thing. The North Wall
Of the Eiger was notorious for blizzards,
If one fell there his neighbour might remark, Bloody fool.
All that would have been inappropriate,
Applied to the experienced climber of electric poles.
I have achieved this great height?
No electric person could have been that proud,
Thirty or forty feet. Perhaps not that,
If the fall happened to be broken by the roof of a shed.
The belt would burst, the call be made,
The ambulance arrive and carry the faller away
To hospital with a scream.
There and then the electric people might invent the railway
Just watching the lid lifted by the steam.
Or decide that all laws should be based on that of gravity,
Just thinking of the faller fallen.
Even then they were running out of things to do and see.
Gradually they introduced legislation
Whereby they nailed a plaque to every last electric pole.
They would prosecute any trespassers.
The high up, singing and live fruit liable to shock or kill
Were forbidden. Deciding that their neighbours
And their neighbours’ innocent children ought to be stopped
For their own good, they threw a fence
Of barbed wire round the electric poles. None could describe
Electrocution, falling, the age of innocence.
WIND AND TREE
In the way that the most of the wind
Happens where there are trees,
Most of the world is centred
Often where the wind has gathered
The trees together and together,
One tree will take
Another in her arms and hold.
Their branches that are grinding
Madly together and together,
It is no real fire.
They are breaking each other.
Often I think I should be like
The single tree, going nowhere,
Since my own arm could not and would not
Break the other. Yet by my broken bones
I tell new weather.
This is not the nest
That has been pulling itself together
In the hedge’s intestine.
It is the cup of a boy’s hands,
Whereby something is lost
More than the necessary heat gone forever
And death only after beginning.
There is more to this pale blue flint
In this careful fist
Than a bird’s nest having been discovered
And a bird not sitting again.
This is the start of the underhand,
The way that he has crossed
These four or five delicate fields of clover
To hunker by this crooked railing.
This is the breathless and the intent
Puncturing of the waste
And isolate egg and this the clean delivery
Of little yolk and albumen.
These his wrists, surprised and stained.
I guessed the letter
Must be yours. I recognized
The cuttle ink,
The serif on
The P. I read the postmark and the date,
By a paperweight.
I took your letter at eleven
To the garden
With my tea.
And suddenly the yellow gum secreted
The damson bush
Had grown a shell.
I let those scentless pages fall
And took it
In my feckless hand. I turned it over
On its back
To watch your mouth
Withdraw. Making a lean white fist
Out of my freckled hand.
THE GLAD EYE
Bored by Ascham and Zeno
In private conversation on the longbow,
I went out onto the lawn.
Taking the crooked bow of yellow cane,
I shot an arrow over
The house and wounded my brother.
He cried those huge dark tears
Till they had blackened half his hair.
Zeno could have had no real
Notion of the flying arrow being still,
Not blessed with the hindsight
Of photography and the suddenly frozen shot,
Yet that obstinate one
Eye inveigled me to a standing stone.
Evil eyes have always burned
Corn black and people have never churned
Again after their blink.
That eye was deeper than the Lake of the Young,
Outstared the sun in the sky.
Could look without commitment into another eye.
HEDGES IN WINTER
Every year they have driven stake after stake after stake
Deeper into the cold heart of the hill.
Their arrowheads are more deadly than snowflakes,
Their spearheads sharper than icicles,
Yet stilled by snowflake, icicle.
They are already broken by their need of wintering,
These archers taller than any snowfall
Having to admit their broken shafts and broken strings,
Whittling the dead branches to the girls they like.
That they have hearts is visible,
The nests of birds, these obvious concentrations of black
Yet where the soldiers will later put on mail,
The archers their soft green, nothing will tell
Of the heart of the mailed soldier seeing the spear he flung,
Of the green archer seeing his shaft kill.
Only his deliberate hand, a bird pretending a broken wing.
Macha, the Ice Age
Held you down,
Heavy as a man.
As he dragged
You sprang up
Big as half a county,
Excerpted from Poems 1968 1998 by Paul Muldoon.
Copyright 2001 by Paul Muldoon.
Published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus And Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.