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Springing: New and Selected Poems


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The Birdcatcher
The Birdcatcher


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Up the long stairs I run
stumbling, expectant.
Impatience is hopelessly
desperate. Hope
takes time.

Sort out the private from the personal.
Advance on losses at a decent pace.

"Aside from all that, Mrs. Lincoln,
how did you like the play?"




Handmaid to Cybele,
she is a Dactyl, a
tangle-haired leap-taking
hot Corybantica.

Torch-light & cymbal-strikes
scamper along with her.
Kniving & shouting, she
heads up her dancing girls
streaming sorority, glamorous
over the forested slopes of Mt. Ida

until she hits 60 and
loses it (since she's supposed
to be losing it, loses it).
Someone takes over
her sickle & signature tune. Soon
they leave her & she doesn't care.

Down to the valley floor
scared she won't make it, she
slipslides unlit to no rhythm,
not screaming. But now she can
hear in the distance
some new thing, surprising.
She likes it. She wants it.
What is it? Its echoes originate
sober as heartbeats, her beat,
unexpected. It woos her.

The rhythm's complex
—like the longing to improvise
or, like Aubade inside Lullaby
inside a falling and rising
of planets. A clouding. A clearing.
She listens. It happens
between her own two ears.




The skull or shell
or wall of bone shaped
with its egg advantages
does not advertise

the gardens it contains,
the marriages, the furies,
or the city it shelters
(clangs, clouds, silences,
found souls crowding,
big dank cans where things

or the glade it hides
for us to hide in, where
—our lives eased open—
we drowse by the pond and wake
beside ourselves with thirst,
where (dipping the cup we find)
we get of necessity
a drink of some depth
full of taste
and original

The darling face,
the fragrant chevelure,
even the beautiful ears
on the shell do not
boast about the workplace inside.

They prefer to appear to agree
they are just along for the ride.





Here I am in the garden
on my knees digging
as if I were innocent,
gloveless in island soil—
sandy, unstable,
hardly soil at all,
very sharp and mineral.

Planted to temper the heat,
this garden has trees & fruit trees.
After a stormy spring
it's a low-walled well of green
bouncing into blossoming.
Already it turns me
toward autumn crocus now in leaf,
chrysanthemum, feverfew,
white & gold after the pears drop.

It's at its best in winter,
free of me, as I imagine it-
its six wonderful places to sit
(next to the tarragon and sage,
under the dogwood for breakfast,
on a log beside the speedwell).

It has taught me
planning which is essential
is impossible.

Mistakes (bittersweet, honeysuckle)
come back every year
hugely bountiful. So do
the peonies, lilies, & daylilies,
& grandma's rampant rose.

Dear garden of my making
stuffed with my ideas & sweat,
you are reasonable.
Your pleasure
is, like me, physical.

So, behave.
I can't keep counting on my fingers
to make sure all your parts are on hand.

I head for the kitchen, to cook.
I have no other plans.

You were not what I needed after all.


The reason for the garden is
this rooming house, this tidy
body's heart, my minded body

where I now rent only
the attic regularly,
and the kitchen, on odd nights.

It is the shabby residence
or sidereal repeat
of recurrent astonishment.

And it has known in every room
the othering bliss of child,
my child, each child different
for each other's sake, each
blessing me blind,
tenant & ceaseless & tiresomely
teaching me
to reach joy by choosing
to love. I so choose, I think.

Only the rich can choose to be poor.
There must be something I can do.

I think I've got whatever I need
in the overhead compartment.

Excerpted from Springing by Marie Ponsot Copyright 2002 by Marie Ponsot. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Pourriture Noble
a moral tale, for Sauternes, the fungus
cenaria, and the wild old

Never prophesy.
You can't. So don't try.
Lust, pride, and lethargy
may cause us misery
or bliss.
The meanest mistake
has a point to make.
Hear this--
what his vintner d'Eyquem said
once the lord of d'Eyquem was dead:
      "The wine that year promised bad or none.
        He'd let it go too late.
        Rot had crawled through all the vines,
        greasy scum on every cluster
        dangling at the crotches of the leaves.
        Should have been long picked
        but he'd said, 'No. Wait for me,'
        off to wait on a new woman,
        grapes on the verge of ripe
        when he left. Coupling kept him
        till rot wrapped the grapes like lace
        & by the time she'd kicked him out
        the sun had got them, they hung
        shriveled in the blast.

        Well, he rode home cocky
        & bullied the grapes into the vats
        rot & all, spoiled grapes, too old,
        too soon squeezed dry.
                                      The wine makes.
        The wine makes thick, gold-colored,
        & pours like honey.
        We try it. Fantastic!
        not like honey, punchy,
        you've never drunk anything like it--
        refreshing, in a rush
        over a heat that slows your throat--
        wanting to keep that flavor
        stuck to the edge of your tongue
        where your taste is, keep it
        like the best bouquet you can remember
        of sundown summer & someone coming
        to you smiling. The taste has odor
        like a new country, so fine
        at first you can't take it in
        it's so strange. It's beautiful
        & believe me you love to go slow."


Age is not
all dry rot.
It's never too late.
Sweet is your real estate.



OLD MAMA SATURDAY ("Saturday's Child Must Work for a Living.")

"I'm moving from Grief Street.
Taxes are high here
though the mortgage's cheap.

The house is well built.
With stuff to protect, that
mattered to me,
the security.

These things that I mind,
you know, aren't mine.
I mind minding them.
They weigh on my mind.

I don't mind them well.
I haven't got the knack
of kindly minding.
I say Take them back
but you never do.

When I throw them out
it may frighten you
and maybe me too.

it will empty me
too emptily

and keep me here
asleep, at sea
under the guilt quilt,
under the you tree."



Separate, in the Swim
(Temara Plage, Morocco)

Oiled and drowsy, idling in a sling
of turquoise cotton, you take the sun.

I stow my rings, cash, shirt, & frayed
cords of connection under your chair.

I cross bands of hot sand then damp cool,
to the waves rustling up
broken by the aim of wave, the idea
that picks up the water
and throws it at the shore.

Invading the invading sea, leaning to it
arms at an angle, I wade in slowly,
weight forward, leading with my knees,
soft-jumping in answer to wave-swell.

Wet to the hips I dive under
and swim turning in to pleasure.
The sea surges inshore. I surge out.

The seas alter me and alter after me,
allowing me a horizontal stride.
Armstrokes & legstrokes echo in my cells
heating the circuit of blood.

Each stroke starts a far drumming
clumping the kelp, helping
shells and rubbish decay into sand.
I press out a pulse (it will

throb back as another pulse) along
the sea-floor and the furthest beaches.
In this stretch of the Atlantic
the whole Atlantic operates.

As I ride, its broad cast evokes
my tiny unity, a pod, a person.

Thanks to the closure of skin
I'm forking the tune I'm part of
though my part is played moving
on a different instrument.
I hear the converse of wave-work
fluid in counterpoint, the current
unrupturing. I push: the Atlantic
resists so that I can push myself

toward a music which on this scale
is balance, balancing buoyancies,
able to condense me back out with it
having carried my will
forward a while before
it carries me to shore.

You have slept.
You have taken the sun.
I towel myself dry.

Excerpted from The Bird Catcher by Marie Ponsot. Copyrightę 1998 by Marie Ponsot. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.