From 2009 to 2012 I taught at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, and I lived on the Hollins campus, which is a kind of bird sanctuary. Twice a day I walked the big circle around the campus, maybe a mile and a half, up a hill to a small graveyard, a ramble through the graveyard, then across the spine of the hill, down to Carvin’s Creek, alongside the water and up a hill to the riding center, with its horse pasture, and finally to my little house. The repetition of my walk and its sights became a part of my consciousness, I had a perfect writing situation, and I was fortunate enough to have written--over nearly forty years--enough villanelles to feel comfortable using (and taking liberties with) that very repetitive form. All of those elements converged one morning to grant me a draft of this “Roanoke Pastorale."
Cardinal, goldfinch, titmouse, turkey buzzard—
dear companions of my afternoons—
above this field, high clouds dream of blizzards
to snow me in till spring ends my solitude.
Sober’s my binge now, nature my saloon.
Wren, mourning dove, house finch, turkey buzzard—
for your entertainment, I sing the words
of old fifties songs, use baby talk, croon
as I walk the field beneath great blizzard-
dreaming clouds. You gaudy pretties, sweet birds
of my senior years--my later’s my soon.
Catbirds flit through cedars in the graveyard,
turkey buzzards swirl their patterns overhead,
across the mountainside sunlight bows a tune
rising to blue eternity but heard
by the heron fishing the creek, wizard
of stillness, creature designed by the moon.
Bluebird, jay, chipping sparrow, turkey buzzard,
clouds, and field--dream this life, walk this world.
“Roanoke Pastorale” appeared in the May 31, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
©2016 David Huddle
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