Today's poem is by Jack Marshall


At times when I look into the eyes of my cats so
stoically uncomplaining and feel their even breathing
on my face as they idly raise

the soft exposed fur of their throats to me,
I suspect—no, can believe—
animals could once speak,

count, criticize and cross-examine,
but at some node of evolutionary crossroads
must have seen how it came to nothing

but more of the same hatred and fear that hides
beneath all talk of duty and honor, imperial emotions
disguised as a hairshirt. But how,

in the highwire circuitry of the chromosome circus,
they managed to engineer giving up
the power of speech—which even as it speaks

sneers at what it is saying,
and entered the silence which poses no question
but that of survival—is a mystery,

as is the silence in which they must have clawed
the nails from the wood of language.
The longer I look, the more their affronted

eyes appear drawn by an inconsolable primal pull
that mourns in advance the endangered moment's
end, who must know themselves as living prey.

They see through it: that wary, indignant stare
evolved beyond blinking holds a predator's
willed suspension of the kill.

Something this silent it takes to be that quick.
The more silent, the better to hear
sounds more filtered and finer

than any I can hear.
It transfixes me
because it looks like it might be pitying me. . . .

We take it for dumbness:
our speech is our beak.
The animals know this and could hardly care

less in their fierce flowing
movements when in flight, and care not at all
when at rest.

                  No wasted motion,
all purposeful, poised economy,
unlike superpowers held hostage

by their overkill weaponry preventing them
from waging all-out war.
What else is history for

but that the ruins of the past be taken up
as the future's blueprints,
with all the time in the world for misery

to show the damage time can do,
the damage it is doomed to do,
even to self-destructing?

Politics is crowds with power; poetry a Zippo lighter.
In its brief, wavering flare I can believe
animals are angels, and in the delighted purring

stream that comes to the hand at their bubbling
throats, believe their meek, belligerent gazes
and their bountiful birth rate

                                           will outlast us.

Copyright © 2002 Jack Marshall All rights reserved
from Gorgeous Chaos
Coffee House Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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