“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 …”
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
of the last known individuals of threatened species, and which
he later removes and drops into a bowl with all the other
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.
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.
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.