Archive, Poems


How strange it is these two eagles seem so small,
like someone’s aging father and mother. It’s because
they’re caged behind chicken wire, a browned Christmas tree
to shit on, white down matted against the wire
and flocking the Christmas tree as if these raptors were
the harbingers of winter all spring.
And I would tell you this and how these two eagles
look bleaker than sometimes our parents do when they turn to us
the hunched, loquacious sadness of their backs,
but some mood plays havoc on your face, you seem to be
anything but the near thing you are. So when
you wave to me from the other side of the cage,
it’s almost as if you wave to me from your very own planet Earth—
in these dark woods where even introspection seems evasive,
forever mooring us to our botched intentions,
whatever feeling comes over your face steps across
an Acheron of its own making.
Here where we push ourselves into each last frown or smile
and fall through this joy to which there seems no bottom,
the male grips a slung strand of rope
while the female swooshes in a curtain call toward the opposite end
with a rat’s tail like a shoestring hanging from her beak,
then shrieks its cac cac cac out of almost nothing we could rue—
but I am afraid the eagles have their own theories of joy,
that to these two black angels
not even Dante could engage in talk, joy has talons
along with two eyes which never see one another,
two wings that can appear from almost nowhere in the sky,
barely rousing the world below in a shuddering wind,
joy that would join the raven feeding on roadkill
washed in exhaust and memorized mouthful
by mouthful and burned away by rain—
joy shrugging into depths no ray can reach,
joy of the ghastly realm the captors love to hate,
joy caged and waiting and parental, broken-winged
joy we never feel at home in, joy at the ethereal blood
the slaughterhouse of a sunset had been hoarding,
joy at every outcry gone beyond recall,
joy at almost nothing
that could ever speak to us clearly,
joy at whatever eats away our hearts.

William Olsen is the author of four poetry collections: Avenue of Vanishing (Northwestern University Press, 2007), Trouble Lights (Northwestern University Press, 2002), Vision of a Storm Cloud (Northwestern University Press, 1996), and The Hand of God and a Few Bright Flowers (University of Illinois Press, 1988). Olsen is the recipient of The Nation/Discovery Award, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at Western Michigan University and Vermont College. He lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

These poems first appeared in Volume XXXIII, Issue 1, Spring 1992 of Poetry Northwest.