Of every clean beast shalt thou take to thee by sevens, the male and the
female . . .
And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast,
and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
Thus the imperturbable wolf did die first.
With fur sleekly licked, all but pomadely shining,
with eyes as yellow as distant tallow lamps
did he go without a shuffle, nor stumble did he not
to the altar beside the dripping hull of the ark:
glad of some space, some open sky not rife
with bleatings and hummings of close-packed blood.
And of the clean beasts there were yet six,
and of the wolf six, to make good a seed
that snow might not be void of vulpine track,
no more than the powder creek bed in the arroyo;
that always might man's dreams feel prowled and stalked,
and the hills be never vacant, without the tilted throat
of a wolf whose bones regret his first betrayed kin,
who takes the lamb and the fatted calf in pilfering revenge.
Thus the gregarious rat next did die.
Thus fell his good nature to Noah's piety
on the altar, no doubt a certain number of cubits large,
on the peak where the pitch-dark planks grew dry.
Frankly did he stretch his neck to the blade,
for only since that day has the rat slunk and scurried
amongst our garbage and our baby-crib bars.
Then had he a furred, yea a catly tail,
which he prayed would shock the squeamish from that time forth,
and appall the brave with its lacey pink whip.
And of the clean beasts there were yet five,
and of the rat six, to make good a seed
that even the rich should dead-bolt their shutters
from the red eyes ringing the patient window-sill,
scritching along the rafters, making whoopee in the cellar;
that even Fifth Avenue never would be empty,
nor all its golden fixtures gleam without a turd.
Thus the impervious cockroach third did die,
thus did he his tracery wings outspread, exposed the onyx back
to the honed scalpel-tip of Noah's knife;
on the mountain, in the shadow of the gopherwood ark
thus did he not, just before the strike, turn and rush the wielder
with saddened disdain and bright-eyed moxie waving feeler-like,
taking the range of his sudden death, as he does now.
(Noah wondered at the chitin, thought he saw a jewel
which might be worn as a pin by the wife of Shem.)
And of the clean beasts there yet were four,
and of the roach six, to make good a seed
that no matter how much scouring the scullery-maid did,
parquet and board might serve up banquets
to a beast whose needs were grim;
that no ceiling should ever remain untravelled
and fall to an envy of vermin's other ways;
that the bathroom in the night might ring to women's shrieks.
Thus the impeccable boar fourth did die,
his trollish snout and upslung tusks blithe in the sun
after forty days of slime in that sty of a pen lashed to the ribbing,
stifling with the breath of life overbreathed;
finally under his hooves the swamp he slashed through each night
in the sea-sick dreams he had aboard that swaying womb
-for him so firm on terra, so native to the dirt-
womb still creaking like a cradle ark on an earthen floor.
And of the clean beasts there were yet three,
and of the boar six, that its rut might free a seed
to haunt fen and marsh, to root out mast;
to nuzzle fatally the hunter's steed in his stable-fat gut
and skewer the heart, to toss the beagle loose
from his ripped-out cry; to dreaden the damsel new to distress
from the high wall plaque in the lord rapist's hall,
a trophy of his aplomb with lance and thrust,
in seeking with its tip the softest part.
Thus the immaculate skunk fifth did die
dainty and discreet until the very last,
black and white perfumer of love's keen sniffs
(until Noah's sanctity turned civet to retch),
who guided Noah's shaken hand to the very spot
through which the blade could sever life
without disturbing the volatile sac,
which now to prick would desecrate the ark
and make of Ararat the first place of vomit after the Flood.
And of the clean beasts there were yet two,
and of the skunk, six, to make good a seed
which would blossom forth nature's profoundest stink,
that whosoever smelleth it must never forget
the wrath of God that brought him to that pass.
Nay, the brimstoned Gomorrah, the sulfured sodomite,
was sweet as frankincense compared to this.
Thus the winsome weasel sixth did die.
Slendering so willowly the gangplank never dipped,
nubile and pert, shy beyond deception,
whose courtship of hens made them happy to unlatch,
she went out maiden-like to the harrowing stone,
trusting in her pelt and Guineverish pout,
but glinting death seduced her through the neck
on that mountainside beside the teeming ark,
all of the dirty beasts raucous and pushy,
impetuous to rout once the rites fulfilled command.
And of the clean beasts there yet was only one,
and of the weasel, six, to make good a seed
for slink and guile through cabbages and weed,
for murderous teeth behind the meek smile,
for nuzzle in their dens and glide into our barns,
for sucklers of eggs, the yolks of life unborn.
And the vulture gloriosus thus at last did die,
before the filthy eagle, the grimy hummingbird,
stately in his hulk above the reborn earth.
Crowned and robed in the colors of a king,
solemn and circumspect, patientest with death,
a kindly mercy in his carrion face,
he unhunched his wings, cramped from the hold,
and Noah did that holy work the Lord ordained.
And of the clean beasts there were now none,
just the dirty remained in their dirty little pairs,
but of the vulture six, to make good a seed
to horrify the shoulder of the byways of the smirched,
to brood above pastures, leave the cow picked white,
to suffer attributions: behold, the angel of the devil;
to squat gratefully over maggot and rot;
to sit in nodding judgement of the hypocrite rest.
1. New York
In New York City one lives
as though one never will.
At fifty I and the Great Plains agree:
Grass soul like the prairie,
Emotions like spring rivers,
Thoughts like Kansas twisters,
Days like the buffalo
Innumerable, doomed, slow . . .
Such a vast life I have
For such a small grave.
3. Southern Appalachia
in these old mountains
no valley without steeple
nor steeple without cross
no pasture without fence
nor fence without stock
where the inner earth
has risen up to offer
times common ground
to us in our moment
who took it from the Cherokee
who had it in their moment,
whose granite suffers us
to cut in our roads
notch our dwellings up
till the rows for corn
it was the eons that made
out of those precipices
these companionable ridges
for our heartbeat as brief
as the first jets of smoke
from chimneys in October
thin and unraveling
even as they rise
from these old mountains
in their Genesis mist