Survival: A Guide by Cleopatra Mathis

Survival: A Guide

It’s not easy living here, waiting to be charmed
by the first little scribble of green. Even in May
the crows want to own the place, and the heron, old bent thing,
spends hours looking like graying bark,
part of a dead trunk lying over opaque water.
She strikes the pose so long I begin to worry
she’s determined to be something ordinary.
The small lakes continue their slide into bog and muck—
remember when they ran clear, an invisible spring
renewing the water? But the ducks stay longer, amusing
ruffle and chatter. I can be distracted.

If I do catch her move, the heron appears
to have no particular fear or hunger, her gaunt body
hinged haphazardly, a few gears unlocking
one wing, then another. More than a generation here
and every year more drab.
Once I called her blue heron, as in Great Blue,
true to a book—part myth, part childhood’s color.
Older now, I see her plain: a mere surviving
against a weedy bank with fox dens
and the ruthless, overhead patrol.
What blind clockwork keeps her going?

Cleopatra Mathis is the Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College, where she founded the creative writing program in 1982. Her latest book is White Sea (Sarabande Books, 2005). Here first five books were published by Sheep Meadow Press and are distributed by University Press of New England.
This poem appeared in Georgia Review, Spring 2009. Poem and image used here with the permission of the poet. All rights reserved.

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