By Neil Shepard
Featured art: Portrait of a Man by Wilhelm Morgner
I write at night when the old hominid
climbs up to the highest branch of the brain
and crouches there in a leafy crotch
listening to the night-sounds snarling below . . .
his heart outracing the big cats of the savannah.
He’s glad I’m civilized and live indoors,
far from the tooth and claw. Glad my central
plumbing works, my TP dispenser full,
so he doesn’t have to shit off a limb,
wipe his butt against rough bark or let it cake.
And though he loves roosting with the birds,
the wind rocking him, talking through the mouths
of leaves, he loves also how the birds have
been stuffed into the softest down pillows
where he may lay his head and dream. Dreams
are scarce as water-holes where he’s from,
one eye always open for danger, one
for hunger. We’re kin for sure: the old beast
in me sleeps lightly or barely sleeps.
I wake often and watch him scratch himself
with a twig that could pass for a pencil
or poke at a moonlit line of ants that
resembles, sure enough, this scratched pentameter.
Some nights we almost meet at a forking branch
where he chooses silence, and I, this speech.
Neil Shepard’s latest book, How It Is: Selected Poems, was published in 2018 by Salmon Poetry (Ireland); he edited the anthology Vermont Poets and Their Craft in 2019 (Green Writers Press, VT). His ninth collection, The Book of Failures, is due from Salmon Poetry in 2022. He founded and edited for a quarter century the Green Mountains Review. He currently splits his time between Vermont and New York City, where he teaches poetry workshops at Poets House.
Originally published in NOR 9 Spring 2011