Project Description

Listen

The mind is made out of the animals
it has attended.

—Robert Bringhurst

A marmot by the side
of the road, eyes enormous, a long
thought flaring out of them, lighting
the embers you hadn’t known
still smoldered, and listen! the marmot
raises his whistle of alarm,
the embers
flame up, blue at their core, rising
until they are the blue feathers of the jay,
noisy in the branches of the ancient
bristlecone pine, twisted and gnarled
by time, and wise to us, high
above the stream
muttering to itself among the cattails,
the reeds erupting in frogs, green and angry
at what has happened to the water, the foul
way it has begun to refuse their company,
and look—
unfurling in the stony shallows,
snails, unwinding, as if their shells were being
unmade, the spirals a slow unravel in
the dying of the light, twilight, blue as the heron
caught for a moment on the wing, held
in the eye:
the eye
for that second filled with
wings, the ear with their beating on the wind,
the air a fan of blue feathers opening
like the great eye of the sun
as it took a last burning look at us, and slid
with a green flash under the horizon,
into morning on the other side of the world.
And it was then the fish,
having refused the hook,
slid off among the weeds, alive
in the dark waters of night, playing among
the confetti of moonlight, bright bits
tossed in the ripples of water, and its body
said rest, said slide with the slow tide
of the currents,
said only its own motion,
the slow swing of the earth among stars,
the slow burn of the stars among
stars, the recurrence of things that are
never the same, like those
that return from a long journey
in the clothes of another tribe, dreaming
their dreams,
as someone who has lived
a long time in a strange country returns,
and only the silence is there
to receive her,
that, and the dog
who has lain at the portal, who rises,
and from his throat comes a howl, a cry
pulled like taffy—that sweet, that
extended, that endlessly supple, that
animal greeting—
and, as we break through,
the mirror, the ancient cry rises,
full-throated, our own.

Eleanor Wilner

Eleanor Wilner is the author of seven previous collections of poetry, most recently Tourist in Hell and The Girl with Bees in Her Hair. In 2019, she received the Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry, the highest award presented by the Poetry Society of America. Her other awards include the Juniper Prize, three Pushcart Prizes, and a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation, and her work appears in many anthologies, including The Best American Poetry. She teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and lives in Philadelphia.

—”Listen” first appeared in Before Our Eyes: New and Selected Poems 1975-2017 (Princeton University Press, 2019)