(Ziwei Suurling/Unsplash)



Chios, Greece

The hawks shrill,
counting themselves cry by cry.
The fox noses the wind
for freshness. But this flock has
no past and no math.
They have no yesterday

and no approaching nightfall.
             They endure
in a land of no named planet.
The thyme and the wiry mastic
tremble with their passage from one
unthinking hour cropping
grass to the next
sky turned green. This is not
the daylight of the dog with his command.
This is not the wing’s gift of angling

into an updraft. Not one of them wonders
or recalls a single name,
and this shoulder-to-rump slow coursing
of unthinking closeness is their
freedom from resembling thistles and weed,

flint and tussock. They are the field
breathing. They do not know.
They do not remember, and possess
no future, like vegetation weary
of solitude stirring as one,
huddled and quick to close
around the startled hunger of the lamb.



Slender legs and long, hanging ears and a way of eating
without looking down, alert, the entire
nation of them, gazing hard with those blind but seeing
keyhole pupils, hedged
from the road and the cliff
by a hashtag fence just enough
barrier to make them wander only
where there is need.

They clear danger,
strip the canyon
of future wildfire and by nightfall some power
has herded them
back to where they sleep. But who brings them,
who trucks them away? Is it true they feed entirely on

brambles and poison oak? And thrive
on dry pinprick rye and
thistles that stand in bristling riot?
Is it true they are afraid of nothing, stepping with clip,
clip quiet with hooves the same metal as their horns?
I speak to them but they do not look. They have their work.

Published in the June 2021 issue: View Contents

Michael Cadnum has published nearly forty books. His new collection of poems, The Promised Rain, is in private circulation. He lives in Albany, California.

Also by this author
© 2024 Commonweal Magazine. All rights reserved. Design by Point Five. Site by Deck Fifty.