Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The Armadillo"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I was walking out toward the chicken coop late one afternoon last week when I happened to notice the neighborhood ground hog digging in the grass in front of the barn.  The ground hog actually lives under the barn, a structure to which he has as much claim as I do.  When I moved here early last March, the big rodent would scurry away as soon as he saw me step out the back door - a distance of three hundred feet or so.  But as he has become more accustomed to seeing me out on his turf, he has calmed down and now will not usually flee until I get fairly close.

I ignored Mr. Ground Hog and set about feeding the poultry and changing their water.   At a certain point, though, I had to advance on toward the barn where the outdoor spigot is located - a path that would lead me right across where the ground hog had been digging.  I scanned the area before heading out, wanting to cause as little disruption as possible with the local wildlife.  Perhaps, if he was still there, I could skirt his location and leave the little fellow at peace.

But the ground hog was gone, and in that exact same spot was a small armadillo, also digging.  I walked toward the little armored invader expecting him to hightail it out of there when he saw me, but he remained right where he was and allowed me to advance to where I was within a couple of feet of the spot where he was digging for grubs.  I was able to whip out my cell phone and get some good close-up photos of the rascal as he punched holes in the yard with his snout - from less than two feet away!

The turkeys noticed me kneeling and taking photographs, so they rushed over to see what was so interesting.  They were followed by a couple of dozen brown hens and a flock of noisy guineas.  All of bird land assembled around the armadillo and watched him work.  The armadillo eventually grew tired of the commotion and merrily skipped over to the barn where he disappeared down the ground hog's hole.

Who needs cable television to be entertained?  Certainly not me!

The Armadillo by Elizabeth Bishop views the ascension of fire balloons, probably as part of a festival, into the night sky from two distinct perspectives.  In the first part of the poem, she talks about how lovely the lighted balloons are against the darkness of night as they rise higher and higher and begin to resemble the stars and planets.  The second portion of the poem takes a much harsher view, describing the chaos that ensues when one of the balloons crashes back to earth and sets the woods on fire.  It is the surreal suddenly becoming very real.

Elizabeth Bishop dedicated this work to another fine poet, Robert Lowell.

The Armadillo
by Elizabeth Bishop

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.  
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars --
planets, that is -- the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,

or the pale green one.  With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,

receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,  
suddenly turn dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down.  We saw the pair

of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.  
So soft! -- a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!

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