The Hunters in the Snow

February 19, 2010

The tracks left in the snow: as footprints, as
a path, a puzzle—for the dogs do not catch scent
of what we see. It’s faint, it’s true, that trail
the rabbit left, a rabbit of slight sounds,
faint scents—faint, but still of the earth—
slight, but you must hear it so clear the heart
is torn—a making of new tracks, new prints,
for it’s winter now, and the world in winter
can be a time for starving…

The painting is a famous one, Pieter Brueghel’s
The Hunters in the Snow. We look down on
the hunters and their dogs, at what must be
a blacksmith’s shop along the rim, a forge—
is the world a poem? Step down into that white
wet snow for a moment. It’s getting dark,
isn’t it? When you walk in the woods you need
to watch each step. Beauty is like that too.
Each step you take for granted can force death
from the raw earth. No one wants that.
The battleground is far too beautiful…

The poets love this picture. Picture William
Carlos Williams and John Berryman,
Walter de la Mere—there could be more—
all standing, talking, alone, attentive,
in the Kunsthistorisches Museum,
each smiling, frowning, gesticulating,
building a poem, describing what they see,
as if all poetry were for the blind—
as if our eyes need an education.
It’s winter; note the icy mountains;
note that dangling sign outside the inn.
The inn! My blacksmith shop is an inn!
—Watch the birds! Watch the trees!—
These poets, they never stop. These poems, they
never give up. It’s like a child
in a state of grace…

So is the world a poem? Something in this
picture demands it so. The ice? The snow?
Creation countermands human analysis.
Like it’s as if time could be one of those
children skating off in the distance,
a child that’s keeping to himself, on skates
too big for his own feet, cutting a long icy arc,
a child to peer down from some place
impossible, impossible though that is.
It’s like a child leaving an icy trace across
a frozen pond, etching signs that we hunters
do not choose to see. It’s like that rabbit
we left up on the ridge today, who is still
at home tonight, safe and warm, I’d like to think—
safe in some burrow, down in the earth—
but maybe this is the last time for him,
maybe this is his last night.
It’s like that, you know,
what is absent…

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