I’m reading Paul Zweig. This is the seventh poem in the second section of his Selected and Last Poems, followed by my response. See here for details.
This poem is set in rural Brittany, where Zweig spent much of the year.
Listening to Bells
by Paul Zweig
I hear bells ringing in the village,
Filling the valley with their deep liquid sound.
They mean that someone has died today…
[Remainder of poem removed 9-24-05]
* * * *
Listening to Owls
An hour before dawn, two screech owls start calling,
loud & close.
I feel like an involuntary eavesdropper
on someone else’s scandal-ridden version
of our lives. It passes
from ridge to ridge, shivering over the houses
& the thirty-five acres of goldenrod plundered from the woods,
like a truncated version of the same
open wing that descends nightly
all over the world, leaving only a few pinholes
of available light.
The owls start calling with the suddenness
of all terrible descents.
I have just been thinking about the long stretches
of highway I would have to walk
to visit distant friends, how we have quarreled
& quickly, almost effortlessly, made up.
But now I tilt my head back
& gaze at those enormous purported suns,
farther away than their image can travel in a lifetime.
When the owls start calling, it takes me a moment
to realize it isn’t my infant niece wailing
in the back bedroom,
fighting her way free of a bad dream
in that existential solitude before language.
Sometimes screech owls keep to a monotone trill,
but not this morning. It’s all high-pitched peals
with a plunge at the end
& enough tremolo to make me think
of the laughter of the desperately happy –
laughing just to keep from crying,
as they say in the blues –
or delirium tremens, the gone high
turned vicious as a beaten dog.
I listen to the owls & chide myself
for anthropomorphizing, not unlike
Indians who can’t hear an owl call
without remembering their own lost
or inconsolable dead. Who else
could part the air so noiselessly?
Staring down the dark tunnels
of frantic scurrying lives,
the eyes of the ancestors grow big as satellite dishes.
They clack their bills.
But these owls are calling for reasons entirely of their own.
They bear no greater share of blame
for this wild tremor in the human throat,
this stutter of images,
than any other ill-omened
inhabitants of the known world.
This might be a mother & her recently
fledged offspring, I think.
It occurs to me that they call
the way they do – with such brevity & abruptness,
throwing their voices –
because of their own, well-founded fear
of larger owls.
They stop far sooner than I stop listening.