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By Eleanor Wilner

By the stream, where the ground is soft

and gives, under the slightest pressure—even   

the fly would leave its footprint here   

and the paw of the shrew the crescent   

of its claws like the strokes of a chisel   

in clay; where the lightest chill, lighter   

than the least rumor of winter, sets the reeds   

to a kind of speaking, and a single drop of rain   

leaves a crater to catch the first silver   

glint of sun when the clouds slide away   

from each other like two tired lovers,   

and the light returns, pale, though brightened   

by the last chapter of late autumn:   

copper, rusted oak, gold aspen, and the red

pages of maple, the wind leafing through to the end   

the annals of beech, the slim volumes   

of birch, the elegant script of the ferns …


for the birds, it is all

notations for a coda, for the otter   

an invitation to the river,

and for the deer—a dream

in which to disappear, light-footed   

on the still open book of earth,   

adding the marks of their passage,   

adding it all in, waiting only

for the first thick flurry of snowflakes   

for cover, soft cover that carries   

no title, no name.


Eleanor Wilner, “Ex Libris” from Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Eleanor Wilner. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Source: Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)

  • Nature
  • Religion

Poet Bio

Eleanor Wilner
Poet, critic, and translator Eleanor Wilner was born in Ohio, and attended Goucher College and Johns Hopkins University. She was the editor of The American Poetry Review, and has taught at many universities, including Smith College and Warren Wilson College. In her poetry, she often writes of myth and memory, with what has been called a “mythical impulse.” She avoids confessional writing, choosing instead to invoke themes of mythology, and reinvigorate them in a modern context, especially with dense historical and contemporary allusions. Her poems reflect her wide-ranging intelligence and her commitment to peace and justice.

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