by Hannah Bissell


This is what we are, what the earth is—the grain of sand
at the pearl’s center, a scarlet salmon
bent against a waterfall’s force. Ascent
is its existence; time and again it annuls itself,
enters the changed constellation of the river’s expanse.
What does it know of this geography?  

Beside the fish on the mired bank,
walnuts lay in spined, green shells like pufferfish
among the grasses. Purple stoneflowers bow their heads
at the feet of aspen trembling in the spring wind
as though chilled to the pith. Each thing a meeting of light
and object, shadows laid out—imperfect
aspects in praise of light, form, their joining,
and earth’s tenuous orbit placing them all in this exact relation.

The fish’s eye takes in more: glaciers of clouds split
by runnels of blue sky meeting the serrated darkness
of the western range.
                                   Up, through the dome of atmosphere,
a comet fights its way against the pull of the midnight spring;
the stars in their courses await its passing.

So small, what do we contain? A hand closes around a spruce needle
or daffodil’s lip, and still they are uncontainable. A man builds
mansions, room upon room so he can believe
they are his. A child lifts a pebble from a rocky beach,
crying out “Mine!” A woman casts a net over the ocean,
hauling in whatever it captures. Still the spaces surround us,
out of reach or ungraspable.
                                             Is it not wiser to lay here,
taking in the geese as they fly over, one soaring alone,
the scent of marshgrasses and dust
in his wing feathers, his belly of soft ivory, his tail feathers lined
in black. Feel the strength of his wings; see the arc of his bill and the depth
of his eye reflecting the walnut leaves. You have him now,
with you. And if you close your eyes, you will see him
hanging in that sky, continually in flight across your senses.

Why not contain the world this way, every space
a space inside you, a bright star flowing toward an ocean
you cannot see?
                        If you believe you can own this earth
by what your hands can form, lay a pebble in your open palm.
See how long you are able to hold it up.