Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Aesthetic Confusion

Walter Benjamin famously opined that every monument to beauty is also a monument to barbarism. Mont St. Michele, for instance, so grand and gorgeous on its spit of land, demanded unimaginable labor and doubtless suffering amongst those who did the grunt work. That was my first thought on seeing the abbey, even though I was a witless, late-teenager, not yet inclined to ponder the world's ambiguities.

But one's aesthetic sense can be addled even by the natural world. Seeing the hawk I describe in this poem attempt (vainly, as it turned out) to murder a squirrel– well, first of all, it would have been imbecilic to anthropomorphize the whole scene, as if the squirrel were a mere innocent and the raptor a villain. These creatures were simply doing what such creatures do. And yet I found myself, for all of that, uncertain whether I was glad for or disappointed by the predator's failure to succeed in his/her intention.

Here's what resulted:


Tuesday. Somewhere I’d guess around the 4000th
one of my life, and I’m washing my coffee pot
and putting it onto the dish rack, the way I’ve done
every Wednesday too, every Thursday, every Friday,
Saturday, and Monday for many years–

most of the 72 by now– so there’s nothing
that you’d call thought in the process, and then –whoosh!–
like thrilling cascade or comet, in broadest daylight
a broadwing hawk swoops in and scatters the finches
from the feeder, which, whatever we try, is a feeder

for squirrels as well, both red and gray. It’s a gray
the hawk had his eye on, and the hawk seems big as a hog,
though he’s lithe and deft and unbelievably quick
in his stoop. Which misses, however. His quarry cartwheels
under a stunted pine I’ve meant again

and again to hew to better the view we have
through this same kitchen window. And now, as something you might
call thought returns after all, I’m pondering whether
I’m glad to have left it standing. The hawk was lordly,
as much as the eagle my wife reported seeing

last week, which started an almost identical dive
but flared up the ridge when he found no game out there
among spilled seeds, where the blood on wet March snow
would in either case have shown so gorgeous, so brilliant.
The look of the squirrel would of course have been pathetic,

no doubt about that. The world’s a puzzling place.

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