Pattiann Rogers is a Professor at the University of Arkansas. Her most recent publication is Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems (Milkweed Editions, 1994). Her work is forthcoming in The Paris Review, Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review, and The Kenyon Review, among others. See other work by Pattiann Rogers published in Weber Studies: Vol. 14.1.
Whether among thickets, spurges or screes,
whether surrounded by fog-filled reeds
on sandbanks and riverbottom woodlands
or threading along hedgerows and rock-
strewn slopes, I have a persistent belief
in a wish so absurd I scarcely speak it aloud.
But maybe you've wanted it also—
just once to be acknowledged, maybe
by a single bract of penstemon or a tilt
of sand lily, to receive a slight, the merest
of inclinations from any leaf, basal,
whorled, to detect a subtle leaning
in the stance of a sweet birch sapling
or a woodrush blade or a capsule
of hickory fruit that might suggest,
on its own, an esteem between us.
There was a rumor once that lilies
grew whiter, bolder with human caressing,
and ferns thicker, richer with praise
whispered in words against their fronds.
And there's the image of St. Francis,
warblers and chickadees on his shoulders,
wolves and wild deer at his side.
Who knows if any of this really happened?
But what I wish is that the creeping
clover, in the integrity of its own pod
and purple peas and trailing stems,
actually contained something of me.
I wish the blooming chicory held
a silent, desert-consistent assent
to my presence right in the crown
and ovary of its blue-ray blossom,
that somewhere in the sizz and chimmer
of the great crested grasshopper's paper
cymbals there were the timbre of my own voice imitating the hot,
summer nettles and mallows too.
Ridiculous, I know, proposed in detail
this way, and I'm reluctant to admit
to wanting so much to be presented
as shining rock by the moon, to be found
amazed in the budding amazement of the toadflax,
wanting the scarlet intensity of my attention
to be taken in, held with regard
by a ruby-russet sheaf of autumn sumac.
It's always there—this hope again
that the skittery waxwing, disappearing
away from me now into the tunneled caverns
of the staid and distant pines, might some time
seem to angle back, revealing, in the very glide
and elegance of its body, its own possession
of the same wish as well.
I've never held a monkey of any kind,
never smoothed the stubbled fur
of a collared titi's head or enclosed
the twig-thin bones of a spider monkey's
fingers in mine or followed the wrinkled
petal of its primrose ear by touch.
Though I've held a live chicken hen
full grown, I've never put my finger
under the feathers of an eagle's throat,
felt the kind of furious flutter
that must pass there continuously
as it sails in surges above the buttresses
of seacliffs or down the thunder
of river passes, that hot, pulsing
thudder under its skin, raging
even as it roosts, even all night
under a dissolving and rainy moon.
I've never pressed the ball of my thumb
against a common wombat's claw
or felt the spotted cuscus curl its pink,
naked tail tip around my finger
or pressed my hand to the bass-drum
barrel of a sea lion's ribs as it bellows
or let the tentacle of a short fin squid
suck to my fist.
What of essence can the eyes alone
truly perceive, those overrated, flighty
skimmers? After all, it was the hands
that invented fondling, the fingers
that created gentleness.
And I, who actually claim
to know you, have never once studied
with my finger the intricate assertion
of your inner wrist, have never found
your stance from neck to feet, every linked
furrow and tone, by touching them all,
or felt your breath as proof on my fingers
during a shrill snow closing in
on a day like this one.
What can I know, possessing now a touch
so restricted, a grasp so limited,
such ignorant hands, such poor,
deprived fingers, such a pitiful,