by Susan StewartI thought somehow a piece of cloth was tossed
into the night, a piece of cloth that flew
up, then across, beyond the window.
A tablecloth or handkerchief, a knot
somehow unfolding, folded, pushing through
the thickness of the dark. I thought somehow
a piece of cloth was lost beyond the line -
released, although it seemed as if a knot
still hung, unfolding. Some human hand could not
have thrown that high, or lent such force to cloth,
and yet I knew no god would mind a square
of air so small. And still it moved and still
it swooped and disappeared beyond the pane.
The after-image went, a blot beyond
the icy glass. And, closer, there stood winter
grass so black it had no substance
until I looked again and saw it tipped
with brittle frost. An acre there (a common-
place), a line of trees, a line of stars.
So look it up: you'll find that you could lose
your sense of depth,
a leaf, a sheaf
of paper, pillow-
case, or heart-
a shrieking hiss,
like winds, like
death, all tangled
there in branches.
I called this poem "the owl,"
the name that, like a key, locked out the dark
and later let me close my book and sleep
a winter dream. And yet the truth remains
that I can't know just what I saw, and if
it comes each night, each dream, each star, or not
at all. It's not, it's never, evident
that waiting has no reason. The circuit of the world
belies the chaos of its forms - (the kind
of thing astronomers
look down to write
And, still, I thought a piece of cloth
had flown outside my window, or human hands
had freed a wing, or churning gods revealed
themselves, or, greater news, a northern owl,
a snowy owl descended.