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Three Poems

She wanted to write a story but wanted it to be new. Once in Alaska
she watched for an hour the vast Columbia ice flow
melting into Prince William Sound. In two hundred years
it had retreated thirteen miles during how many
wars? She pictured a burning fuse next to a glacier
melting, and how it becomes harder and harder to find the future
of that story. The great arena of freedom
like that of a bee moving within the bell of a daylily, its feet
and mouth turning around anthers, its
pollen-dusted body, light-intoxicated.—To stay
or leave? In church once, the choir singing Mozart’s Exultate
Jubilate, she heard a jet coming over low that drowned out their voices
along with the organ. Mouths moved with no
sound.—Song, turbine-undone, till the soprano took it back, slow,

the way a planned park will take back a landfill. Fresh Kills, she saw it first
in the mid-eighties on a trip to the Statue of Liberty, the trash dump
becoming the largest man-made structure in the world, built
like a layer cake—fresh trash covered with burnt trash
covered with fresh, eighty feet higher than the Statue of Liberty,

and she thought of the Columbia Glacier again, but as something
alive, a breathing, white feral thing. The landfill, phasing
out around the year 2000, reopened for 9/11. Forensic teams digging through debris
for body parts. A cell phone ringing among
trash, weeds.—Digital, vegetal. What iPad or ledger vast enough
to record this? This new onceness of screens, a lingering
once, archive of all, for any event to be played

again, again, but one artist, Marguerite Kahrl, assembled from landfill parts
a remote-control vehicle that runs on the landfill’s methane gas,
a vehicle taking back control, like the soprano, notching pitch
up a bit, the vehicle that will soon                                                     
roll through the verdant park, once dump—a dilated threshold

like the one Vaughan Williams creates in his Pastoral Symphony, the fourth
movement that begins and ends with a voiced but wordless
soprano, marked “distant” on the score, and—between the two passages
of her voiced, wordless lament—ghost soldiers rise up
through the French countryside, many
of them the composer’s friends, where he used to drive
the ambulance truck “at Ecoivres and went up a steep slope and there
… a Corot-like landscape in the sunset.”—Those muffled drums    
like boots on the ground just before the soprano
starts singing the high hymn, far, like a fuse burning on a glacier.


The Life

I have no house or clothes and live in the forest.

I know your language but no longer speak it,
though I often hum, mewl, or mimic the trill of birds.

The cardinal’s I like best—twuuu, twuuu, twuuu—three long silver notes,
a temporary bridge, spanning the air.

Like you, perhaps, I buried a mother and father, and now walk their vast terrace.

I eat mushrooms, fish, and leave no footprints.

I have no money or belongings but make drawings in the sand.

I am my own house through whose windows and open doors you have glimpsed
a deer or fox’s gaze.

My sex is one green weight equal to the age of light.


Varieties of Light

On the highway, saw the eyes of a sheep staring through slats
of a trailer transport. Who?

I thought for both of us. The choices
I had; those it didn’t. And once visiting

a friend in jail, saw all the hands reaching out from their cells
when a woman walked by.—Empty hands

grasping at air. One man kept saying, Please, please, a word
whose value seemed to decrease with others’

laughter, just as the Yamuna River laughs off steep rocks from its
Yamunotri Glacier source in the Himalayas

but turns to filth in the lower third of its eight hundred-mile course
as it moves toward Delhi,

the stench of feces and chemical pollution creating a white froth. We
are only passing through

this earth. In Stykkishólmur, Iceland, there’s a Library
of Water, a series of glass tubes, floor

to ceiling in length, each holding clear, melted water from one
of Iceland’s glaciers. Imagine

if you were a child reading all their varieties of light, and when
the glaciers are gone how still

we will become in their aura as in a zoo with no animals.

Mark Irwin is the author of ten collections of poetry, including Shimmer (Anhinga Press, 2020), A Passion According to Green (New Issues, 2017), American Urn: New & Selected Poems (1987–2014) (Ashland Poetry Press, 2015), Tall If (New Issues, 2008), and Bright Hunger (BOA Editions, 2004). Recognition for his work includes The Nation/Discovery Award, two Colorado Book Awards, four Pushcart Prizes, the James Wright Poetry Award, the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, and fellowships from the Fulbright, Lilly, and NEA.