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by Robert Parvin Williams | Oct 23, 2020 | GUNDOGS, HUNTING
In the Penumbra

Eyes night-blind from the dashboard light you plunge
Into the swamp to please the dog, walk
By feel between trees and tangled vines, feet
Seeking the hardness of the path, following.
She trots ahead and stops, tail
Slapping briars as she turns, impatient.

Blindness lifts, ahead the glimmer of her eyes
Light from the setting moon sifts down
Bare-limbed bottomland oaks and gums
The edge of open water, night opens like a portal
Bright pinprick stars, streak of silver cloud
Backlit by Venus and the moon.

Moon-bleached stumps, shimmering cattails
Black water dusted with stars, reflections
Shattered by the dog’s delighted splash.
You follow her wake in a slow shuffle, toes
Feel for holes and logs. A line from Prufrock
Scuttling across floors of silent seas.

She waits a hundred yards ahead, already perched
The hummock she has stood mornings beyond memory
And always the same urgent pointless hurry
Toward the moment. But she should know
Ten minutes at least before they fly
There will be time, there will be time.

Prufrock in waders and spats. You chuckle,
She stirs, a shower from her tail explodes the image.
Maybe a morning to write something yourself
Later, when the shooting’s done,
The dog content at last to be still.
Pink in the east. Two minutes, maybe three.

Ambiguous edge of light and dark
Nothing sure, adrift in time amidst
The vague geometry of a winter swamp.
This is why you come
Not for the ducks or even for the dog.
To balance change in the penumbra.

The moon is gone. Light bleeds upward
Streaks of crimson sharpen the ragged shapes of trees.
Night sky fades, loses one by one its stars.
You are still, feet rooted, trees dormant specters
Until each reaches limb by limb
And pulls to earth the blood-red light.

The first flight comes from the east.
A hen’s cry plaintive as a wandering soul
And they are there, borne on the light
Black beating shapes sweep, bank
Turn suddenly across the light.
Colors burst alive, drakes bright as glory.

You lead the first, smooth rush of flight dissolves
A cloud of feathers, tumbling hurtling splash.
The dog’s eyes follow the fall, she leaps
Churns across black water into brush, reappears
Triumphant to nose the duck into your hand.
Swamp muck sprays with a joyful shake.

Another flight, this time a pair
Surprises from behind, their wingbeats
Overhead and gone too quickly.
At the tree line they turn back, come in low
Swaying left and right, dropping
To water much too far in front.

The dog has seen them.
She whines softly, torn
Between desire and shame.
The ducks have seen her, too.
Unconvinced that shame will trump temptation
They swim hastily upstream, away.

Another pair and a single, two more retrieves
And that is all the law allows.
Ten minutes first to last.
The dog works the final duck
That dove and disappeared
A single feather drifting in the current.

This is the bit that stirs your pride
The way she works the swamp alone
Consulting only if ideas run dry.
She circles downwind, moves back
And farther back until she picks up scent
Then dives into a clump of briars.

Sounds of splashing, breaking brush.
She paddles back slowly, delivers the duck.
Tired, she climbs the hummock, settles still.
You smooth the duck’s feathers beside the other two
Their harlequin sense of style, red, green, ginger, blue
Against dead grass and the dog’s black sheen.

The dog will not live much longer than they
And you will follow them
And still there will be ducks and dogs
And men to watch the dawn.
The sun is up. Soon the shadows will be sharp, unambiguous
You begin to write, the dog’s head resting in your lap.

The physical fact of dawn is just
The glow of change from more to less,
Another step to entropy.
Sun-flamed feathers fall
Gravity bound, tumbling to water
As the universe cools.

A universe caught
Between the physical fact and time
Quiet generations layered one upon the next
Like sodden leaves, fixed
In the physical fact of light
That silhouettes each tree against the dawn.

For which there is no time
Or anything beyond the way
The sun-flamed feathers fall.
And when it is finished, you walk back
Through the swamp, you and the dog
Companions, content, to breakfast.
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