“Warner Valley” and “Compensation”: natural rivalries in two poems by C. Wade Bentley.

“It was as if they couldn’t help picking away at it, like your old aunt who knits as obsessively as she once smoked …”
Australian crows at the birdbath. Gunver Hasselbalch, watercolor, 2015.

Warner Valley

-

At his suggestion, we follow the theropod footprints

across the red rock until they disappear where the dinosaur

-

apparently walked off a cliff and into the lower Jurassic,

and we tip-toe carefully around the cryptobiotic crust so as —

-

or so my grandson, who attends the charter school where each

grade is named after a plant and gym class is composed of kripalu

-

yoga in which students learn to accept and learn from their bodies,

tells me — so as not to disturb the cyanobacteria so important

-

to the ecosystem. And I am keen to support a future, his

future, where there is less lumbering, more attention paid

-

to the planet I mucked up for him to the point that he now

has a large map on his bedroom wall into which he pins a picture

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of the last known individuals of threatened species, and which

he later removes and drops into a bowl with all the other

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extinct creatures who are settling in and adding their fossils

to the Anthropocene layer. We eat our sandwiches near a wall

-

that he calls a newspaper rock, named for all the petroglyphs

sharing all the news that was fit to inscribe into the dark

-

desert varnish over the past two thousand years, and which now

includes the much more recent carving of a large heart with

-

“Derek + Steph” inside and an arrow pointing the same direction

as the dinosaur footprints were heading when they disappeared.

*****************************

Compensation

The black birch was dying from the top down,

so many branches having already been removed

for safety that the goldfinches no longer came

in the fall to hang upside down and harvest seeds.

Still, the sparrows went to work on a hole in the tree,

gradually widening it to nest size, and I watched

several sets of hatchlings, all bald heads and gaping

beaks, at first, then perching for a week or two

like puffy dauphins on the fence, and then gone.

One year the chickadees were first to the hole,

defending it, making it more spacious still. Other

bird couples came and went, each doing a bit

of remodeling, as you do, upgrading to stainless

steel appliances, maybe, or marble tile. It was as if

they couldn’t help picking away at it, like your old

aunt who knits as obsessively as she once smoked,

filling whole rooms with afghans, slippers, hats.

Each tenant planed away at the walls, until one day

they punched clean through cambium laths

and drywall bark, leaving the home open to wind

now that would chill the eggs. The nest lay vacant

for years, the hole like a periscope eye in the stump,

until one summer when wasp masons began

bricking up the walls, mixing saliva into stucco,

subdividing, leasing studio apartments, a vibrant

compensatory hum for the slowing xylem and phloem.

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C. Wade Bentley’s collection of poetry is What Is Mine (Aldrich Press), and he has published a chapbook, Askew. His poems have appeared in many magazines and journals, including, most recently, Rattle, Barrow Street, and Willow Spring.