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More Joe Paddock Poems


The ancient Chinese critic,
Yen Yu, told us that when
Tao enters the poem
it becomes an “antelope hanging
by its horns from a tree,
leaving no traces to be found.”
The white spaces between
the lines in such poetry abound
with shifting herds of possibility.
Venturing into them, we are lifted
on the vast wings of emptiness
and carried away for a time.


In clustered dark fishing shacks,
stark against the white reach
of frozen lake, there are guys
out on the ice of old age.

After a day of staring down
through clear, chill water,
the old men have become calm
and care little that great pike
lurk within the shadowy dark
of bottom weeds. Calm, the old
guys do not care so much
to tangle with such fierce energy.
A few nice panfish now will suffice
to fill their quieted need.

As the winter sun begins
to set, a fisherman in a shack
at the far western edge
of the colony has reeled in
his line, has swung open
his door, and a black puppy,
released, runs round and round
what had held him in. The grizzled
man within has his radio on,
and a faint old-time waltz
three-steps, out across the snow.

The first owl of evening, hot
blood within soft feathers, calls,
then begins its deadly drift
among frozen limbs.

The old man in the far western
shack has been calmed by gazing
for hours into clear water, and
as he stares through his open door
into the bloody tangle of sunset,
there's a shine in the shallows
of his watery blue eyes, and
he's lifted by the waltz
into memory of being
lost within a whirl of skirts
on a dance floor, not so distant,
but gone now forever. Nevertheless,
a foot moves to the music, and,
as the black puppy licks his hand,
the old man’s eyes are calm.



There is the risen tree
and then the equal tree
beneath, heavy, tough
and pulpy tangles
that bear and feed.

Out there,
under deep powder snow,
dormant grass lies matted,
through which populations
of bright-eyed mice, with pink
toes and tails, burrow and feed.

On the surface, tracks of foxes
wander in search of the living
blood-filled morsels that
sustain from below.

Under thickening ice, turtles
rest on mud bottoms, fish
and frogs shift slowly in search
of oxygen-bearing plants
and currents. They school
and pile over the slow
warming surge of springs.

In dark of night, we shift
and turn in sleep and, eyes
dancing under lids, dreams
rise like bubbles up through
our warm and watery depths,
bearing naked images, the truth
about us, our lives, providing
continuing balance
and guidance.

Here, on this still and cold,
bright sunlit day, with heaps
of soft snow all around,
this heat within, this joy
and deep calm, are risen from
and depend on root-stuff,
heavy below, that bears
and feeds.


Dark-bodied waterfowl, greater
scaup, arranges feathers
with a shivering of spray,
then seeks the sun
by diving downward through
rich, chill water to where light
barely filters. Downward
toward nourishing
muck bottoms with gardens
of reaching green, succulent nets
that catch faint sun and feed its heat
into the searching, gobbling scaup.
This feeding begins, even then,
to turn to fire in the flesh and eyes
of the rising bird, as it bursts
suddenly through bright surface
with croaking quack and splash
and blur of reaching wings.

LEAF DANCE, LIFE DANCE               

Oak leaves, walnut, willow and ash ....
I rake and haul, heave barrel after barrel
onto the fenced-in compost heap, till full
for the tenth time, and I toss my beagle over
the fence, climb the little ladder and leap after,
and we dance the pile down.

This is what we live for.
We stomp and leap and roll,
and Ring's sometimes almost altogether
gone, as he sounds after something which stinks
(dead sparrow or tire-smashed squirrel),
just the whipping white tip of his tail
which I sometimes grip till he flounders
to the surface, his eyes filled
with immense light. "Down there!
Down there!" Every writhing nuance
of his body speaks: "Down there!"

So much life must love death,
its smell and promise. Up and down!
Up and down! We leap and roll and dance,
smashing dead
leaves down tighter and tighter in the pile.

And even now
a new dance begins which will flame
high in spring,
when I mix in manure and the sun
leans near, and insects, worms
and forty billion bacteria to some incredible power
swarm in this ton of leaves. Up and down!
Up and down! Leap and dance! Snarl and eat!
Die in again
for sheer joy!













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