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Have You Seen Blacksnake Swimming?
Down at the Blackwater
blacksnake went swimming, scrolling
close to the shore, only
his dark head abover the water, the long
yard of his body just beneath the surface,
quick and gleaming. The day was hot, but there
in the water, another snake might have
danced with him. But, since he was alone
he whirled a little, unnecessarily, and picked up speed,
so that on both sides he made a lacy wake
and there was a rippling sound,
a sort of soft music, just enough
to amuse that narrow mouth, whose corners,
in that cool swale, were lifted in even more
than his usual gentleman's smile.
-- Mary Oliver

Tabula Rasa
The landscape in this country is entirely
bare and blank, undistinguished
by any feature, except for a stitch
of swallows appearing and disappearing

above the sky-smooth lake, in and out
through the portals invented by their own
journeys. Here alone in absence, except
for many tiny punctures in the overall,

seeming like the prints of thorny grass
crickets, the pinpoint instincts of rock
lizard toes, the stinging bristles of musk
thistle and the lesser spikes of lattice

spider. This is a dull, unbroken scape,
except for a pinnacle, a balustrade of forest,
except for a rip of hound yelping and then
another, and the jagged red slash

of a rooster's occasional "chicchirichi,"
except for a multitude of cracks in the oblivion
through which appear many eyes, yellow
of black cat on a tile roof, pierce of preying

gull, two glassy prongs of woodland
snail, old man in grey cap with cigarette.
This country is still and void, except
for a funnel of attention from which

emerges an imagination lacking all
countenance, until it begins -- together
with a skitter of lizard nails, an old man
flicking ash, a two-pronged snail

and its glistening swill, a vista of gull's eye
at prey, the play of chicchirichi, a lake of sky
opened by swallow doorways
-- to move
into the creation of its own reality.
-- Pattiann Rogers

OnEarth. Spring 2004
Copyright 2004 by the Natural Resources Defense Council