by Julie Hanson
Feature image: Claude Lorrain. View of Delphi with a Procession, 1673. The Art Institute of Chicago.
The snow had been with us for awhile
and was dingy and not well lit.
But the sun promised to come out.
The light fog lifting
against the skinny tree trunks
and the grounded limbs they’d lost
and the thick, half-detached vines
would lift off,
dissolved, by the end of our walk.
We’d taken the footbridge
across the creek and followed the bend
away from traffic and toward the west ridge.
We’d gone a mile in,
to where usually I begin to listen to
our progress in the twigs and gravel of the path,
and past this, and past my own
periodic reminders to the dog
to the short, uncomplicated songs
of winter birds. And there,
near the spill of rocks in the creek
where the fog was still passing through branches
and a little farther and to the right
where a stretch of tall grasses
received a wide gift
of sunlight and several cows,
the air that stood still
between the trees and shimmered
over the grasses filled with sound—
a big voice moving through
a hundred thousand habitats—
and it said, “Attention in this area.
The following is a regular monthly
test of the Outdoor Warning System . . .”
It spoke from the west first,
sounding closer than it could be.
And it spoke from the southeast next.
“This is a test,” it said, “only a . . .
“This is a test . . . ” it began again
from somewhere else.
The dog returned to me, cowering.
I’d wondered before
without much curiosity,
where were those speakers housed,
were they towered, did they revolve?
Ordinarily heard in the yard
while I stood pinning laundry to the line,
the broadcast soon plunged and sank
into the noise of passing cars
and blown and rolling garbage cans
and faded like the little ringing
that emanates from construction sites.
But here, it seemed full minutes long
before my breath was back again in my chest,
and my dog’s breath,
steady and rough, was back in hers,
when the voice had left the air
between the trees, as had the fog.
At last a bird sounded from a twig.
At last a squirrel came down
and sent the dog. And then,
made up of other sounds
I could not have singled out,
a normalcy rolled in.
Infinitesimal bits is all it was
—quick beaks breaking up the peat,
the slow collision of a leaf landing, scooting
half an inch along a big flat rock,
a splat of excrement in white,
a flinch, a flap, a flick. But as it came it felt
to be a counter-vigilance. Or like
the sound of consciousness. The is.
Julie Hanson is the author of The Audible and the Evident (Ohio University Press, February 2020), winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, and Unbeknownst (University of Iowa Press, 2011), winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She received fellowships from the NEA and Vermont Studio Center and has poems recently or forthcoming in Under a Warm Green Linden, failbetter, Plume, Bat City Review, The Literary Review, and Copper Nickel.