Two Poems by Robert Schultz

Thoreau, in Spring, at the Railway Embankment

— out of Walden

In a spring thaw, sand flows down

the railway embankment, lava

over snow; streams overlap,

strands interlace, obeying

halfway the laws of currents,

halfway the laws of foliage.

I see vegetable forms in iron

colors—brown, gray, reddish,

yellowish—vines tangling,

acanthus, chicory. I see sprays

of leaves, sap-filled, pulpy,

fans spreading like reef coral,

like nets of nerves. I see brains,

muscles, lungs, bowels,

coiled excrement—grotesque

foliage in a true sense,

as from a grotto. Thick

stalactites gleam in sunlight,

their cave exposed. I think

I stand in the Artist’s lab

who made the world and is still

at work, sporting on this bank,

strewing designs. The globe 

has opened, its inner churning

thrust into view. This is frost

coming out of the ground, this

is the Spring.

The maker 

of this earth but patented a leaf:

the whole tree is a single

leaf, its branches veins,

and rivers are still

vaster leaves whose pulp is earth.

Even ice grows crystal leaves,

as if water learned from water plants.

No wonder the earth

expresses itself in leaves,

it labors so with the thought

of them. Atoms already know

their pattern, are pregnant

with it.

All is a flowing,

Heraclitus said: a man is clay

and a woman clay, melting

and flowing. What is the ball

of a human finger but a drop

congealed? Who knows what form

we yet may take, thawing in weather

more genial still?

The earth is not

dead history, stratum on stratum,

a dusty book, antiquarian’s tome.

It is living poetry, green leaves

preceding flowers, preceding fruit—

the whole folio, soul’s delight.

Sand flows from a railway

embankment: this is the frost

coming out in March,

this is the world becoming.

 

Study for Metamorphoses

 

Because the boy

      stares at the camera, a number

            pinned to his shirt, eyes alert

 

behind submission,

     I study the butterfly Sara

         Orangetip, its forewings

 

mottled orange as if

      someone had dipped it,

         grasped it carefully, thumb

 

and finger, and bleached

     the remainder white.

          Because a boy, younger

 

than the first, seven at most,

looks deeply into

     the same lens and receives

 

instruction from the same official,

  and seems to know what only

         a man of fifty should know

 

of power and terror, of rote

      procedure that leads to a future

cleansed of him,

 

I repeat the name Blue

     Glassy Tiger—

          black with dots and

 

streaks of blue,

     like chapel windows.

          Butterflies lick the salts from gravel,

 

sip mud for moisture, nectar

     at nearly any flower, and lay

          their eggs on plants chosen

 

for the special tang of their leaves.

     So Coppers, for instance—

the larval stages of Blue,

 

Gorgon, Hermes, Lustrous,

      and Purplish Coppers—

         eat docks and knotweeds, and Monarchs

 

attach their eggs singly

    on milkweed flowers,

one per petal,

 

and Viceroys will lay a single

     egg, a spiny dot on a willow leaf,

way out at its tip.

 

To browse the leaves, their pale

    undersides, finding eggs

       with ridges like turrets or

 

layered in rows like strings of pearls

      where the Empress Leilia

                    deposited them,

 

is not to think of other things.

      The young woman, jet black hair,

       number twenty-four.

 

The Atlas moth is the world’s

     largest—Southeast Asian, it can reach a

         span of twelve inches, wings

 

tawny like old maps

     with white triangular eyes in them.

        In Cantonese, its name

 

means “snake’s head,”

    thumbed forewings resembling

         slightly a cobra’s profile.

 

Inkblots look like butterfly

    wings and butterfly wings

          are Rorschach tests.

 

Fully unfurled, an imago

     drops the stored-up waste

          from its pupal stage, a thick

 

fluid, reddish.

     Rare events—mass emergings—

          have prompted tales of blood

 

pouring from the sky.

      The stories we tell begin

         in scenes we think can happen.

 

Here, in Virginia, as the sun

      slips, July 2nd, 2012,

           a temperate night

 

in the tenth year of our foreign wars,

    I sit in the shade of wisteria

         vines and look at pictures—

 

Butterflies of the Old Dominion.

   Ruddy Daggerwings nectar a field

        of Spanish Needles;

 

Tiger Swallowtails lick damp sand,

     dozens together, their wings aligned;

            a Painted Lady in purple

 

thistles makes its rapid

      nervous flight to the next tuft.

           As the sun dips

 

and the day cools, the Fatal

      Metalmark, strange for here,

          sips its blossom,

 

and Question Marks alight

    on the orange

         where someone threw it. 

 

Sometimes now, to close the day,

    I say their names, an incantation—

        White Admiral, Red Admiral,

 

Tawny Emperor, Zebra

     Heliconian, American Snout,

         Grizzled Skipper, Silver Checkerspot,

 

Pearl Crescent,

     Mourning Cloak.

 

 
ROBERT SCHULTZ is the author of four previous books and the John P. Fishwick Professor of English at Roanoke College. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Award, Cornell University’s Corson-Bishop Poetry Prize, and VQR’s Emily Clark Balch Prize. He completed MFA, MA, and PhD degrees at Cornell University. Schultz’s newest collection of poems, Ancestral Altars, was issued by Artist’s Proof Editions as a multimedia iBook on iTunes. He and Binh Danh have been collaborating for eight years. 
 
BINH DANH’s work is in the permanent collections of such museums as the Corcoran Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the George Eastman House, and many others. He received his MFA from Stanford University in 2004 and is represented by the Haines Gallery in San Francisco and the Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. His wor investigates his Vietnamese heritage and our collective memory of war, both in Viet Nam and Cambodia.