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(I’ll see your thirty and raise you, dyl)  The finest birthday poem, period.


  It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sunlight
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singing birds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.


The end supposes the beginning. The dog wags the tail or the tail wags the dog. There was a trail down the hollow when I was a little girl, but the trail went under the barbed wire fence that was rusted so badly it was about to fall apart and sagging so low that even a little girl could wind up with snagged pants if she tried to slip underneath it. I know, because I did try, and lost it in the end. It is hard to extricate oneself from barbed wire when all alone in a ditch. I wondered what would have happened. Could I wind up stuck there forever? Would snakes come and tickle my ankles. Would spiders build webs in my hair? Would the birds laugh at my problem? Would the squirrels swear at my being in their back yard? Would the foxes come at night and bark at me.

The foxes in the hills around my grandmother’s did bark. I heard them before, in the nights when I crawled out of my nest of four quilts, so heavy I could hardly breathe beneath them, much less move, having to pee, hating the little chamber pot under the bed because it was so easy to miss. I would pad barefoot out of the cold front bedroom through the living room where my grandmother slept in her rocker beside the banked stove. She could not sleep lying down; asthma, she said. Open the door, open the screen, creaking but quiet, onto the smooth concrete front porch.

Outside the smell of hickory woodsmoke filled the air. The air was still and frigid, cracking. There was no sound nearby, no birds, the dogs all in their house curled in a warm ball together, the chickens in their coop all puffed (no baby chicks yet beneath light bulbs, in a month or two the mail order peepers will come). No one about but me and the moon, making hard shadows, and off in the distance up the hill past the hollow with the tiny creek and the barbed wire, the foxes, not like dogs at all, calling out the cold night. Then I went to the moon, shaking scared of the foxes and chilled and pulled down my pants to pee steam off the edge of the porch.