Mudlark Poster No. 74 (2008)

Four More Poems by Oliver Rice

Whose Father Drives Him to the County Airport | Man's Natural Predator Being Man
In Their Vigor and Wiliness | Tuesday Afternoon. August. She Practices Hooded Eyes.

Oliver Rice has received the Theodore Roethke Prize, twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His poems have been published widely in the United States, as well as in Canada, England, Austria, Turkey, and India. His book, ON CONSENTING TO BE A MAN, has been introduced this spring by Cyberwit, a diversified publishing house in the cultural capital Allahabad, India, and is available on Amazon.

Whose Father Drives Him to the County Airport

Who, even as they speak of his mother’s health,
follows the arc of a soaring hawk,
even as they recall their fishing days,
thinks of Icarus, of Daedalus,
of Leonardo’s speculations about an aircraft,
even as they regret the price of land,
thinks of the marvel that shortly
he will be so casually, effortlessly
aloft with the hawk,
even as they fret about the government,
thinks of the awesome circumstance
that, as a result of such feats of progress,
his psyche, his genes, his species
might be somehow mutant,
even as they embrace at departure.

Man’s Natural Predator Being Man

There, in northern Iraq,
across the Tigris from Mosul,
are the ruins of Nineveh.

There, in southern Iraq,
by the Euphrates northwest of Basra,
are the ruins of Ur.

There, in central Iraq,
on the Euphrates south of Baghdad,
are the ruins of Babylon.

There, between and along these rivers,
was the heartland of our first civilization,
known to history as Mesopotamia.


These are artifacts from the lifeways
of our progenitors there,
Neanderthals, Sumerians, Assyrians,
and ensuing victors of imperial wars —
a clay tablet incised with hieroglyphics,
standing, sitting, reclining figurines
of ivory, alabaster, copper,
a limestone ewer, a lapis lazuli necklace,
a lioness, a horse and rider,
a terra-cotta model of a boat —
excavated by accredited archaelogists,
invaluable for insights into our origins,
until recently on exhibit in Iraqi museums.


Here are the entries to some of these sites,
smashed — not for the first time —
by citizen looters during the American attacks.

Here are shattered pottery and display cases,
a toppled, beheaded statue, massive debris
left by vandals desecrating their own heritage.

Here is an unresearched field pockmarked
by the spades of indigents
prospecting in the dark of night.

Here is a documentation of relics by the thousands
presumably sold to dealers in antiquities,
thus available to clients around the world.

In Their Vigor and Wiliness

Halloo, Imhotep,
first man known to history.
All praise to a revered physician,
prodigious architect,
advisor to a king.

We wish to know how to admire your people.

Are they, for example, given to introspection?
On a holiday in nice weather
along the habitable strips beside the Nile,
relieved until the next sunrise
of the rigors of discovering agriculture,
and metals and civilization,
do some of them, at their games,
perceive how philosophy might construe their play
as symbolic projections of their animal imperatives?

Halloo as well, enlightened wife of Fu Hsi,
primitive Chinese emperor,
who together teach your populace marriage,
the domestication of animals,
the nurturing of silk worms,
Honorable greetings, exquisite lady.

We wish to know the yearnings of your people.

Are they, for example, given to introspection?
Do some of them, in their agility
of hands and feet and eyes,
their vigor and wiliness,
perceive intimations of courtship display
and simulations of their ability to survive?

And you there, meditator,
squatting by a stonecutter’s alley
in Mohenjo-dare, extinct city of ancient Punjab.

We wish to know how we resemble your people.

Are they, for example, given to introspection?
Do some of them, at sports,
sun glinting on the Indus, the mountains,
perceive the taints lurking in their ardors,
a temptation to become zealots of athleticism,
to cultivate brutish animosity toward opponents,
to depreciate humanistic values?

We will listen, now, with regard for all.

Then we will speak of ourselves.

Tuesday Afternoon. August. She Practices Hooded Eyes.

Winona, about to enter the eleventh grade,
may have decided to be an authentic thinker,
ruthless and famous.
To endure invaluable misfortunes
and follow wherever her perceptions lead.

Or she may be an insurgent,
an iconoclast, she says,
a radical witness to the general muddle.
Or go covert, disguised as a philistine,
and spy on the common run.

There are landscapes no one has ever visited,
she says to the sensors of her brain.
Questions that have waited forever to be asked,
afterthoughts of all the statues,
and infinite hypotheses.

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