Claudia Emerson’s poem “Drought,” from LATE WIFE

Dear Reader,

I continue to post my favorite poems in honor of National Poetry Month. Today’s poem is “Drought,” from Claudia Emerson’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning volume of poetry, Late Wife (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2005).

The clarity in this poem stuns me, its quick dive into my gut catches me off guard. Its meaning forbids translation, at least by me. And its nature imagery—“still air cleft by their repeating patterns”—clings to me, inspires me. (Maybe I’ll once again try to write a poem about what happens to me when I watch Swainson’s hawks perform in thermal spirals. I’ll share it with you when it’s finished.) I wonder if this poem will affect you. Its sounds parch my throat.

(I apologize for how the poem is formatted here. Emerson intends it to appear in 8 two-line stanzas, with a indent on every second line. The / indicates where the second line should begin.)

Drought

I began to understand/      its severity when glassy

crows came shameless, panting at last/     to the birdbath, and when the locusts

fell to the ground, another failed/     crop. The street lay empty all day,

and the river grew thinner, its spine/     showing through. Only butterflies

thrived—the still air cleft by their/     repeating patterns, the feathering

wings of swallowtails, monarchs;/     I learned from their bright emersion

to rely, for a while, only/     on the eye, the dry horizon.

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