Friday, March 13, 2015

What is it About Grace

A little poem, written a moon ago, about grace, about life, about the land I love, Point Reyes. 

What is it about grace—
how it comes down upon you
in the form of a sunrise
over the green knuckles
of Black Mountain, a lick of peach

across the bay, then all at once
the whole star, balanced there
at the edge and rising, how in
that moment you know 
that you are watching the earth 

Yes. That should be enough to bring
you to your knees, but then there are
the woodpeckers, laughing, and
the robins, calling, and the light coming in
on the wooden walls, on the man you love,


but what is it about grace
which is also the silver body of a gray
squirrel at the bottom of the hill,
one leg crushed in the middle of
the road called Sir Francis Drake,
how she is staring from great black
eyes and writhing to get up
but you know she will never get up again,
and what is grace if not also mercy?
How can you leave her there in the road
to be flattened a dozen more times
before lunch? What is this world,
with the bodies of animals crushed
into its roads like old shoes?

It doesn’t feel like grace
when you, shaking, turn the car
around and come back
knowing it will be her swiftest death
knowing you have no knife, no hammer
to finish her fast. It doesn’t feel like grace,
the small thump under the wheel, how dying
her whole silver tail waves like a banner
three times before it’s still.

You roll her out of the road with two sticks.
Her body is perfect and limp, save the
red bloom of her head. She is silver and clean
as a moon, setting behind Black Mountain
in the daylight. You cover her in hanging moss
and wild vetch and say words
for her squirrel soul and it feels like grace
her final peace, that she suffered less
than she might have

and yet she stays there in you
later when, at the edge of the world
with the man you love, at the edge of the world
where you can see the gray whales
swimming south to Baja, there is a tiny beach
far below where mother elephant seals have come
and given birth to wrinkled babies, dark as
silt, with velvet skins that bunch up around their
necks, just like big coats.

They are lounging;
no other word for it
babies nosing their mother’s bellies for milk,
sweeping sand up on their bodies with their flippers
to cool down the sun which rose over
Black Mountain and will set in the sea.

Nothing can touch them here, only
the sun, and the edges of the
lace long tide, coming and going.

In all of this grace, and the whole impossible
span of the ocean, and the cliffs of Point Reyes
a great curving bowl, a great long arm,
the great journeys of elephant seal, and whale

there is also the gray squirrel,
who didn’t make it across the street
this morning
and how impossibly lustrous

her silver tail.

-Inverness, February 2015


  1. Sylvia, that's a beautiful (and sad) poem. Have to read it again. Thank you for sharing. I buried an acorn woodpecker in our yard recently. I found him in the middle of a road. His tiny body was still warm!! :(

  2. I had quite the reputation, as a child, for being the "Burier of Animals", found on roadsides or neighborhood yards. Even now it is tricky deciding where to put new garden spaces, as it requires remembering where all the little beings have been laid to rest. I've always believed someone needed to acknowledge their lives, their lost souls. This poem tells me you feel the same. Lovely.

  3. Very nice, Sylvia. I’m impressed and moved by the complexity you carried out here. It could easily have been a poem about beauty and love, with an eye averted from the tragedy. Or it could have been a simpler, possibly chill-thrill poem about a death on the highway. But you managed to hold it all at once. Well done.
    I once wrote a poem about hitting a rabbit, and hearing the animal, usually mute, screaming over the sound of the engine, I did something like what you did: deliver the quickest death I could. But the event stuck with me. Inspired and moved by you, I will revisit that old poem, and see what I left out. What I might have done better, more truly. Thanks, Sylvia.