APRIL IS POETRY MONTH: 'Witness' by Amy Clampitt

APRIL IS POETRY MONTH: 'Witness' by Amy Clampitt

As Mary Jo Salter writes in her introduction to Amy Clampitt's Selected Poems, Clampitt, who was raised during the Depression on the Iowa prairie, "lived in New York for half a century, but wrote about birds perched on branches at least as much as about passengers on the subway: she was an urban nature poet." Here we find her back in her native Midwestern surround, bringing that urbanity to what she sees.

 

Witness

 

An ordinary evening in Wisconsin

seen from a Greyhound bus - mute aisles

of merchandise the sole inhabitants

of the half-darkened Five and Ten,

 

the tables of the single lit café awash

with unarticulated pathos, the surface membrane

of the inadvertently transparent instant

when no one is looking: outside town

 

the barns, their red gone dark with sundown,

withhold the shudder of a warped terrain -

the castle rocks above, tree-clogged ravines

already submarine with nightfall, flocks

 

(like dark sheep) of toehold junipers,

the lucent arms of birches : purity

without a mirror, other than a mind bound

elsewhere, to tell how it looks.

 

Excerpt from SELECTED POEMS. Copyright (c) 2010 by The Estate of Amy Clampitt. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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