The Green Well

From The Kenyon Review, New Series, Winter 1990, Vol. XXII, No. 1

June. 5 a.m. Before the sun retakes
its dips and humps, light rims the field
with an aura. Gnats form an ectoplasmic cloud
over the bruised bathtub, over the salt lick

hollowed out by tongues, like medieval stairs
petitioners’ feet have worn, looking for truth.
I hold truth in a Nine Lives can twice
weekly for the cats, whose paws explore

the lips and sills of stalls so deftly that
they never need encounter the grounded dogs.
Today a newly dead red squirrel hugs
the top of the feed bin, recompense exact.

Thanks, Abra. Thank you, Cadabra, for
doing God’s work–fledglings, field mice, shrews,
moles, baby rabbits–else why would He
have made so many? I bury what I deplore

in the manure pile, deep in that warm brown
digester to be flung next fall on the meadow,
then let myself down rung by rung into
the green well of losses, a kitchen midden

where the newly dead layer by layer
overtake the long and longer vanished. Gone
now to tankage my first saved starveling mare
and the filly we tore from her in the rain.

After the lethal phenobarb, the vet
exchanged my check for his handkerchief.
Nine live foals since and I’m still pocked with grief,
with how they lay on their sides, half dry, half wet . . .

Grief, Sir, is a species of idleness,
a line we treasured out of Bellow, my
suicided long-term friend and I.
All these years I’ve fought somehow to bless

her drinking in of the killer car exhaust
but a coal of anger sat and winked its live
orange eye undimmed in my chest
while the world buzzed gossiping in the hive.

That mare a dangerous runaway, her tongue
thickly scarred by wire. My friend too
fleeing her wolves, her voices those voodoo
doctors could not still nor save her from . . .

It does not end with us, though end it will.
A hapless swallow lays another clutch
of eggs in the accessible nest. The cats
elaborately clean themselves after the kill.

Maxine Kumin (1925-2014) was the recipient of a number of prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award. She published eighteen books of poetry, most recently, Where I Live: New and Selected Poems (2011). From 1981–1982, she served as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (now called U.S. Poet Laureate).