Today's poem is by Theodore Deppe

Recitative on Cape Clear Island

                     "This night is enough, this moment that never stops opening out..."
                       —Octavio Paz

Cows in their rectangles of fog, and the repeated notes
of a song thrush from the next, invisible field —
repetition and variation: the calm manic music

of one who belongs here. Chuck waves from the steep lane,
setting off on the third of thirty-five days in which he'll lay
his body down under the radiation's tumult.

How many years since he climbed down to the dead whale
and carved, amidst the stink and flies, porous bone
with Nell's bread knife? Even after he boiled it an hour

she made him buy her a new one. Now, the fieldstone wall
along the narrow lane is crowned, ten steps apart,
with the minke whale's weathered vertebrae, salt wind whistling

faintly through winged flutes, the small stops
of the spinal canal mouthing their only song. O and O and O...
Octavio Paz has died. At the giant, outdoor stone table,

I copy down lines from his Sunstone: "Pounding at the door
of my soul is the world with its bloodthirsty schedules."
Fog-grey kettle of tea on the stone desk, sound of wind or waves

whittling the island down to essentials, and what's just happened? —
a breakneck reel's on radio, Annie's dancing in the kitchen,
and I'm suddenly weeping and don't know why....

My thrush has settled ten feet away, head thrown back,
throat relaxing and swelling, singing the way my friend Janice
sang last week as Jimmy accompanied her on guitar, his eyes

locked on her, her eyes closed, abandoned
to the song he'd written. What would it be like
to give myself so thoroughly to a song?

I think of the teaching jobs I love and also of Eamon saying,
"Teaching is like being nibbled to death by a hundred ducks."
When we met last August, Chuck was hoeing

rows of American corn that he planted
while dolphins skimmed these same green waves.
Annie and I, juggling four jobs between us then, breathed

again, freed by his story of leaving everything.
Did he worry about quitting his teaching career
to come to Cape? "A man must be a little crazy

not to be a lot crazy." Weary of schedules, we've returned
this year with the shearwaters. Our first night back
we're told of the Christmas Eve hurricane.

Great sheets of torn waves wailed across the island
and Chuck and Nell went out to photograph them.
Wind pinned them to the heather. Unable to stand up,

what could they do but laugh at such helplessness,
two unbelievers who'd say they "knew at last
what it's like to be held in God's arms."

Chuck, all morning I've pictured you on your journey,
maze of islands to the mainland where you pop-start
your rusted Renault and follow backroads to Cork. The fog's

burned off by the time you reach the hospital,
you welcome the warmth of sun on your shoulders,
but how could you not feel some bone fear

as the door swings open? I imagine you pinned again
under the radiation, willing it fiercely to heal you.
Annie returns from a walk on the cliffs where she heard

her first skylark, just where you said you heard one yesterday.
I leave with her to see if it's still there, recalling your words:
"If you see the lark, don't let it become a symbol

in some damn poem of yours. For Christ's sake
let it be itself, that will be enough." It's here, Chuck,
above the Bullig, a bird that's breathtakingly

only itself. From its heather nest it rises
vertically hundreds of feet to pelt the wind with song,
hovers there, then lifts itself higher and sings aloft

the longest time, a ravishing music that maybe means
nothing, intends
only itself, but opens up this huge landscape

into something even larger, rock-spined island
that hums in the wind with the waves' percussion
and the whale bones' O-antiphons and the lowing cows,

a chorus, a canticle, a recitative too vast for us to understand
which yet, at least for this moment
as you head across the water home, includes us.

Copyright © 2003 Theodore Deppe All rights reserved
from Cape Clear
Salmon Poetry / Dufour Editions
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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