Ready For Their Close-Up: Two Poems

In the American Heritage dictionary close-up is defined as:  1.  A photograph or a film or television shot in which the subject is tightly framed and shown at a relatively large scale. 2.  An intimate view or description.

Curated by Suzanne Lummis

The Foundling by Rebecca Seiferle

Erles by Dick Barnes


The following poems rise from some close observation of, or interaction with, the natural world, then each achieves a stunning leap beyond the day-to-day world.  And yet—in the end—both have everything to do with the lives of ordinary men and women. 


In the last several months I've come upon just one poem that aroused in me a kind of grief, and I was set to wondering why it troubled my imagination.   After all I don't consider myself an emotional push-over in regards to poetry;  I've heard so many, read so many, that I've become somewhat inured to poetry's way of working.  The little composition that got under my relatively thick skin was Rebecca Seiferle's "The Foundling," which links the mundane brutalities of this life and the paranormal, the fate of a baby animal and the destiny of a human child. 


Though its subject matter seems inherently powerful, most of us who write will appreciate how easily the story could have been mismanaged.  A couple wrong turns might have tipped it towards mawkish sentimentality or melodrama.  But notice how the voice here does not editorialize or campaign for our sympathy as it proceeds towards that devastating, irrevocable end.


The late Dick Barnes, too, was a master of poetic voice, in his case one that suggests the easy good will of a fellow relating the day's news—but relating it with markedly efficient language and a rare strangeness of imagination.  In the following poem I admire how he takes a low despised thing (what's lower and more despised than a scorpion?) and—again, without sentimentality—manages to get us invested in its plight.


And how does he do it in one long smooth movement, sweep us up from desert sand into the cosmos, the eternal, some realm of wild, unknowable, indestructible triumph, then set us down again? 


Dick Barnes considers a tiny virulent presence we'd step over, or step on, and Rebecca Seiferle surveys a girl poised at the beginning of her life, but both poems may be read as testimonies to the will to survive, that which courses through and unites living things.


                                                           —- Suzanne Lummis



The Foundling


The only ghost I've ever seen

was that of a baby black bear, waiting


for me one night in the kitchen in Salmon, Idaho,

a small green tornado caught in the corner by the stove,


full of pale yellow lights like the tiny polished stones

that flash in the bed of the coldest mountain streams.


All winter, we lived in that rented house, while the landlord,

in the garage, practiced his butcher's art, skinning, gutting disassembling


whatever the local hunters brought him – and I'd seen the cub

hanging outside my window.  Flayed of its rich black skin,


reduced to the scaffold of its bones, its overlay of red muscle and white fat,

without claws or snout, pud or tail of bear, it hung in the glare


of the porch light like a human child. So when I went roaming

the silenced house so late at night and was met by that wild presence,


I spoke it until it sighed and vanished into the peeling wall,

and left me, the only child still there, snared in the net of the world.



The above poem is from Rebecca Seiferle's most recent book, Bitters, Copper Canyon Press, 2001, .  An earlier book, The Ripped-Out Seam, was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize.  Her translation of Cesar Vallejo's Trilce was the only finalist for the 1992 PEN West Translation Award.  She is the founding editor of The Drunken Boat, an on-line magazine of international poetry and translation.




Half crushed at the edge of a dirt track

amidst coarse crumbs of decomposed granite

lies a scorpion.  Her little ones have got down off her back.


The sun declines: shade

saves her, the lacy shadow

of a creosote bush reaches over.

She'll have to move in the morning or die.


Night and the cold: ants go back in. And then

the chitinous plates that cover her back

wither, shrink, and come apart

light passes through them


down inside her there is a vast pool of light

her flesh cracks open

the new flesh underneath feels its own coolness

it is so new, and it shines


Planets and constellations seem to wheel overhead

as the earth turning turns her face everywhere

in the heavens: Azrael, Uriel, Zadkiel wheel

in the distance: Gabriel close by:

late rising Annael, Michael hidden in the bosom

          of Raphael

appear in the east: the night has passed

and no beast has discovered this crippled scorpion

no coyote coati or fierce grasshopper mouse


morning is near and kestrels


she is still there

she is living



Dick Barnes (1932-2000) taught Medieval literature and creative writing at Pomona College.  His first collection, A Lake on the Earth, was published by Bill Mohr's Momentum Press (1982). The last, Few and Far Between, came from Ahsahta Press.  The poem re-printed here is one of several included in Poems of the American West (2002), edited by Robert Mezey, from the Knoph "Everyman" series. 




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Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach