Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ruth L. Schwartz: "Important Thing"

I’ve always loved the way pelicans dive,
as if each silver fish they see
were the goddamned most important
thing they’ve ever wanted on this earth—
and just tonight I learned sometimes
they go blind doing it,
that straight-down dive like someone jumping
from a rooftop, only happier,
plummeting like Icarus, but more triumphant—
       there is the undulating fish,
       the gleaming sea,
there is the chance to taste again
the kind of joy which can be eaten whole,
and this is how they know to reach it,
head-first, high-speed, risking everything,

                and some of the time they come back up
as if it were nothing, they bob on the water,
silver fish like stogies angled
rakishly in their wide beaks,
—then the enormous
                        stretching of the throat,
then the slow unfolding
                             of the great wings,
as if it were nothing, sometimes they do this
a hundred times or more a day,
as long as they can see, they rise
       back into the sky
to begin again—
                and when they can’t?

We know, of course, what happens,
they starve to death, not a metaphor, not a poem in it;

this goes on every day of our lives,
and the man whose melting wings
spatter like a hundred dripping candles
                       over everything,

and the suicide who glimpses, in the final
seconds of her fall,
       all the other lives she might have lived.

                The ending doesn’t have to be happy.
                The hunger itself is the thing.

"Important Thing" by Ruth L. Schwartz. Text as published in Edgewater (HarperCollins Press, 2002). Reprinted by permission of the poet.

Art credit: Photograph of California Brown Pelican "dive-bombing for fish," taken June 7, 2007, by Alan M. Pavlik.

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