Now Devouring (After Thoreau) by Kristen Case

Is not disease the rule of existence? There is not a lily pad floating on the river but has been riddled by insects. Almost every shrub and tree has its gall, oftentimes esteemed its chief ornament and hardly to be distinguished from the fruit. If misery loves company, misery has company enough. Now, at midsummer, find me a perfect leaf or fruit. The towel left out all night weighs down the line, heavy as a corpse. Even your breathing feels caged. You can’t tell weather from time, or which is the rule against which you elaborate this lace edge. Now, at midsummer, find me a perfect. Oftentimes your gall permits openings through which ghosted filaments make felt their own ornate departures.

I make my own time. Some days the house seems so much ash. Another’s margin writing haunts even the alphabet. The wood clean stacked for winter waits in the sideyard, so much split time. You make nothing from a fine thread. Everywhere the month settles into its ending where again you are astonished. Ash covers your mouth with its hand.

How can any good depart. It does not come and go but we. Shall we not wait for it? is it slower than we? Slow as new grammar we await any good. Last night’s rain clings to the thin wire of the window screens in mercurial geometries. All the Septembers echo in hushed radiance. It does not come and go. Echo in proximal shiver. See how a patterned hole differs from a tear, here at the edge of absence. All the small lights hold me to a future music. Shall we not wait for it?

The powers thus celebrate all discovery. The squirrels are now devouring the hazelnuts fast. A lupine blossomed again. August might be called now devouring. We make much of what blossoms again. My father, dying, walked out to see the sunsets, the word for which he had forgotten. We greet matter properly at last. Your hair is going white. The coffee cools. O evening rainbow. Beauty is a late discovery.

They are up to their shoulders in the grassy sea. Almost lost in it. Birds are conspicuous these mornings, silhouetted at the edges of trees, inverted against low branches. Light breaks in the dense and glossy foliage of the ghost-blossomed azalea. How has your living brought you to this grassy sea? The new texture is thick and inconstant, a bright wire. You ache differently and for other apparitions. Up to your shoulders you rehearse a slow decline. Birdsong the almost-lost.

I sympathize with all this luxuriant growth of weeds. Such is the year. The new light touches you where you let it. Such is the diminishing year. In the wet garden, hollow your hand. I sympathize with all this. Growth is a secret law—like any weed you bend to it.

When two approach to meet, they incur no petty dangers, but they run great risks. Run the shattered orbit, the brilliant canopy. You wake before petty dangers to watch it unfold. Two approach a calendar of thorns. Everything blossomed weeks ago. The garden’s beauty holds, is held. Is a cradled eggshell. Consider abandonment. Run the panicked gamut. Run all the hollows. Incur what you will.

I am struck again and again by the richness of the meadow-beauty lingering, though it will last some time, its little dense purple patches by the side of the meadow. It is so low it escapes the scythe. Sunlight dulls the distant firs, shatters in close folded leaf tiers. Your hands through your hair will loosen half a dozen strands. Outside near-invisible threads knit the low branches. Spiderlight. Silvering toward invisible, again and again. Lingering, you are struck. Close guard your little fire, though it will last some time. So low it escapes.

Note: Italicized lines are from Thoreau’s Journal.




Kristen Case’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Chelsea, Brooklyn Review, Pleiades, Saint Ann’s Review, The Iowa Review, Wave Composition, Eleven Eleven, Wildness, Rust + Moth, BOAAT, Matchbook Magazine,and The Harvard Review. Her chapbook, Temple, was published by MIEL in 2014, and her full-length collection, Little Arias (New Issues, 2015) won the Maine Literary Award for Poetry. She is co-editor of the essay collection 21 | 19, featuring contemporary poets writing on 19th-century American texts, forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. She is also the author of numerous scholarly essays and the introduction to the bicentennial Penguin Classics edition of Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience. She teaches English at the University of Maine at Farmington.