Three Poems by Daniel Tobin
To Wilfred Owen
Alone in your namesake rooms, I watch cattle
tromping hill-fields. Contented souls. No guns
mowing down the doomed in rows. The rattle
is in my head—quashed wounds, wrongs, orisons
like an unhinged dissonance of passé bells
gonging on. No diapasons of silken choirs.
What sings in me is ruck in empty shells.
Chronic fights. Monstrous silence. Not these shires.
Staring closely at what opens, if at all,
when the trench inside concedes, the eyes
blink away. Herald or glum goodbye?
A window’s waning mirror? I look up. All
I can see is the havoc of impatient minds
contending in hurried dusk. I shut the blinds.
Something there was—now this sullen earthwork
there, where two great trees have folded their roots,
is it into its twin’s unconsidered dreams?
That ancient mound of piled loam persisting
doesn’t know its maker nor do we. What besides
love brings the aimless to the arrow’s mark?
A couple wheels their child along the ridge—
wall-like, a bulwark. I don’t know what it is
that keeps the ground beneath us, though it
sends its shoots running through the distances,
the forward tumbling eons. I, for one, feel
frozen before everything, the unknowable
ground of being, this sopped earth and its rain-
swell spilling over the itinerant ditches.
Under me, there must be a bridge. I feel it.
It extends. As though breakage were a road.
And time the fog we come to see is light that
spills over in us, around us—the scene,
the consequence of arrival. There is no
upper hand, only the letting go, like sudden
boulders falling headlong to a single sea.
In the branches’ heights the crowded leaves lift
the guttering fuses of their stems faithfully.
Sun is the round dream that saves them as they fall.
Always we breathe the pollen of departing’s
flower blooming, broadcast like dusty blood—
even with a hint of breeze we breathe departure.
About the Author
Daniel Tobin is the author of six books of poems, Where the World is Made, Double Life, The Narrows, Second Things, Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry), and The Net (2014). His seventh book of poems, From Nothing, is forthcoming in 2016. He is the author of the critical studies Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney and Awake in America, and the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: The Selected Early Poems and Lola Ridge, and Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art. His awards include the “The Discovery/The Nation Award,” The Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, and fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.
Thomas Gainsborough, Landscape With Cattle, c. 1773 (detail)