Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Armadillo by Elizabeth Bishop For Robert Lowell

The Armadillo    
                by Elizabeth Bishop

For Robert Lowell

This is the time of year

when almost every night

the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.

Climbing the mountain height,


rising toward a saint

still honored in these parts,

the paper chambers flush and fill with light

that comes and goes, like hearts.


Once up against the sky it's hard

to tell them from the stars—

planets, that is—the tinted ones:

Venus going down, or Mars,


or the pale green one.  With a wind,

they flare and falter, wobble and toss;

but if it's still they steer between

the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,


receding, dwindling, solemnly

and steadily forsaking us,

or, in the downdraft from a peak,

suddenly turning dangerous.


Last night another big one fell.

It splattered like an egg of fire

against the cliff behind the house.

The flame ran down.  We saw the pair


of owls who nest there flying up

and up, their whirling black-and-white

stained bright pink underneath, until

they shrieked up out of sight.


The ancient owls' nest must have burned.

Hastily, all alone,

a glistening armadillo left the scene,

rose-flecked, head down, tail down,


and then a baby rabbit jumped out,

short-eared, to our surprise.

So soft!—a handful of intangible ash

with fixed, ignited eyes.


Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!

O falling fire and piercing cry

and panic, and a weak mailed fist

clenched ignorant against the sky!

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