A Feather for Voltaire by Jorie Graham

The bird is an alphabet, it flies
above us, catch
as catch can,
a flock,
a travel plan.
Some never touch ground.

And each flight is an arc to buttress the sky,
a loan to the sky.
And the little words we make of them, the single feathers, dropped
for us to recover,
fall and fall,
a nimble armor.

Feather, feather of this morning, where does your garden grow
flying upwind, saying look
it is safe
never to land,
it is better.
A man full of words

is a garden of weeds,
and when the weeds grow,
a garden of snow,
a necklace of tracks: it was here, my snow owl perhaps.
Who scared it away?
I, said the sparrow,

with my need, its arrow. And so here I belong, trespassing, alone,
in this nation of turns
not meant to be taken
I’ve taken.
A feather,
pulled from the body or found on the snow

can be dipped into ink
to make one or more words: possessive, the sun. A pen
can get drunk,
having come so far, having so far to go — meadow,
in vain, imagine,
the pain

and when he was gone then there was none

and this is the key to the kingdom.

Jorie Graham
The Dream of the Unified Field (1980, rpt.1995)

 

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