When I think of debts (other than those to family), I think first of libraries and librarians – God bless them every one. A college professor for more than 30 years, I taught first at Oregon State and since 1992 at Linfield College. Five books of poems carry my name on their spines, including an Oregon Book Award winner (1989) and the most recent two from Jessie Lendennie’s Salmon Poetry, which, delightfully, has a mailing address without a single number in it.
In the garden
Before everything fell into its separateness,
Before everything fell apart,
The mute and noisy world sang — it was one thing —
And we had no need, no need for speech.
Pears and the mayfly hatch were one thing.
And plums withering and olives littering the floor
Were one thing. And what the spiders said spinning,
What slugs intoned, what onions in their harmonies grew,
What a kestrel’s eye understood and the mosquitoes knew
And what leeches and eels contemplated in their solitude
Was one thing. The arc of the sun rising and Venus rising
And the moon peering at us with its rheumy eye
And papyrus in the backwash, the kelp forest
And the swoop of bats and their dreamless sleep
And the open mouths of poppies, and sand dunes,
A drift of camas, a cane thicket, jackrabbits
And purple vetch, a stand of wheat or mustard or daisies,
A horse with its nostrils flared to the wind
Was one thing.
Afterwards, for our consolation and despair,
Our guessing and second guessing, our anger and stammer
And painful joy, we had to learn to speak to learn
How clumsy we had become
And wrong, foolish, arrogant, partial, and loud.
It’s all we can do to think the world we breathe in,
The chant and rhythm of it, catching
The unsayable shape and echo
Which was one thing -- speech
And silence, certainty and doubt,
The wakefulness and the sleeping,
The error and the remedy.
-From Out of Town, Cloudbank Books, 2004;
originally appeared in Willow Springs
©2015 Lex Runciman