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By Hayden Carruth

The northern lights.         I wouldn’t have noticed them

    if the deer hadn’t told me

    a doe         her coat of pearls         her glowing hoofs

                      proud and inquisitive

                      eager for my appraisal

and I went out into the night with electrical steps

    but with my head held also proud

                      to share the animal’s fear

                      and see what I had seen before

    a sky flaring and spectral

                      greenish waves and ribbons

and the snow         under strange light         tossing in the pasture

    like a storming ocean caught

                      by a flaring beacon.

    The deer stands away from me         not far

                      there among bare black apple trees

                      a presence I no longer see.

    We are proud to be afraid

                      proud to share

the silent magnetic storm that destroys the stars

                      and flickers around our heads

    like the saints’ cold spiritual agonies

                      of old.

I remember         but without the sense         other light-storms

    cold memories discursive and philosophical

                      in my mind’s burden

    and the deer remembers nothing.

We move our feet         crunching bitter snow         while the storm

    crashes like god-wars down the east

                      we shake the sparks from our eyes

    we quiver inside our shocked fur

                      we search for each other

    in the apple thicket—

                      a glimpse, an acknowledgment

    it is enough and never enough—

we toss our heads         and say good night

    moving away on bitter bitter snow.


Hayden Carruth, “I Know, I Remember, But How Can I Help You” from Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991. Copyright © 1992 by Hayden Carruth. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Source: Collected Shorter Poems 1946-1991 (Copper Canyon Press, 1992)

Poet Bio

Hayden Carruth was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and was educated at the University of North Carolina and the University of Chicago. He taught at Syracuse University for many years and worked for several literary magazines, including as the editor of Poetry magazine. He published over thirty books of poetry and criticism, and was awarded several top prizes. Much of his poetry, including “The Bearer,” is set in Northern Vermont, a setting with which Carruth often mixes his radical political beliefs. He frequently combined rural life with verbal resourcefulness, strongly influenced by jazz and blues music.

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