Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

The Poetry of C. Mikal Oness: Finalist, 2001


The Handworm's Hipbone




I cannot know what that crow says
               but I would warrant that it is nothing
incidental, nothing that can wait,
               and nothing that we need to know
before this one last turn around the block.
               The doctor is waiting with some news.
It used to be a doctor was a teacher,
               he'd teach us how to keep our bodies, he'd help
fill our minds to feed our hearts. But now
               we have a phone call, now we have
to be ready for anything. There are procedures
               to explain, and something like odds.
Chances are, what the crow says is pertinent,
               but in this foot-full of leaves we brush aside
lies any number of possibilities and at least one
               alley we have never considered before.
We have little time. We have little to say.
               Listen, the crow is not divine; his caw is just
perhaps, but if I call upon him as an image,
               then I declare him to be only that.
Let no black bird be anything else than that
               which comes into my musings to represent
the constant and normal, tragic and daily
               inventions that any father might imagine
when before him a perfect boy points upward
               in autumn to the same two doves perched
on the same two wires he pointed to last autumn.
               Let me now declare that this crow beckons
only what's already past, and that where our only boy
               has one brother and one little sister, neither
having suffered any kind of misery, there only
               as a dreamer shall he lay a leaf by the head
of each, and I accompany him, and I bring him
               home to wake in peace and in full being
between me his father, and her his only mother.


Under the overturned wheelbarrow,
               in the dark of that insulated space
warmed by the decay of last year's leaves,
               is the dark of the dark and building soil,
is the dark of the ever-dampening.

And when I overturned the overturned
               wheelbarrow, the dark flew out like a covey,
like sparrows, and having been for so long so
               used to all of its damp and warm
containment, and having fled so quickly,

it left behind the decayed, or half-decayed
               body of an ordinary bird, a black bird,
the remnants of its red brassards browning
               beside it. The remnants of last year's leaves
also lain by its head for so long as to be

blackening beside it, silent and benign,
               as if sent there by charm to diminish
some inconsequential thing shamefully
               placed in a dark space in a dark time
to become naught in the heart of the harrower.


                              -OE v. to whisper; run, n. whisper, mystery, secret counsel.

Whisper this one. Small brown trout attend the weeds;
                brookies wave with the cutbank mosses. The holsteins
move off to the other side of the coulee. And you—
                hackle of pheasant, pipe felt and bead—pace up-stream.
Still, the silent dew, the small browns, the nymph descending.


Something making you weep—forecast backcast—the last star
                recedes into the blue-jaundiced silt of dawn. The mist
accretes in the pasture. Holsteins lumber off. Something has you
                weeping. Your small son sleeps. Forecast backcast forecast release.
A new hatch lights on the pool, new browns rise the first time.


In the deep shadow, the knee-deep water clatter, I come
                against a scrimshaw of prickly ash and barbed-wire
backlit by early yellow dawn. My nymph bounces on the roil.
                Inside that dark lacuna, a giant, a water-demon—or
a big trout. I stiffen, barb-bitten, pulled by the downy silt.


Five a.m., I'm racing a big yellow sun out of town
                to Shadow Coulee. Something's frothing in the stream,
gathering over the grassy islands, across every hanging reed.
                I'm too close yet. The browns see us coming; they can
taste our plans like a bad word, like soap in the mouth.


One little brown lost to our silent scrimmage, two
                big muskrats bounding pool to pasture, three
nymphs caught in the reeds, four in the long grasses,
                five impossible tangles five times a day, five days
to fish for five fish a day, and one little brown away, away.