Two Poems

Poetry / David Baker

:: Two Iguanas ::

Spines in the
flame tree.
        And tongues beaded 
        with blood just-drawn at the shuddering tip of

the two of them.
Males, if the expansive
        gullet, the ornate, fine-finned, armor-
        unfolding dewlap are

indicative, and the bigger jowl
and head
        are, too. One so big 
        he straddles a flame bough, licking—tail drooping off

a good three feet.
He’s been up there all the days we’ve been down here.
        Now the younger one— 
        new-leaf-green along

his body and banded tail—
wants the cluster of
        flame blooms the big one 						
        was in the middle of

nipping off, chewing.
He’s got 
        his whippy tail uplifted like 
        a bow, a scorpion.

All this time the tree seethes—
bone-brown boughs 
        shine. Half a dozen doves and black grassquits
        sit up there and where

the red blossoms molder are a few
fern leaves and lime-like 
        flower buds, buff as knuckles, 
        growing in groupings.

I think the big one
sees the little one, though he’s below—
        perhaps the rudiment of lens and retina in
        the flat third eye

senses motion. They’re hardly moving,
except for the talon claws
        of the big one twitching at
        the limb, the slow-

motion, pushup 
tensing of the small one like 
        a breeze, itself sweet 
        with a tincture of hunger and heady scent

of a hundred hibiscus and
pink cedar flowers.
        Then he falls!—or 
        did he just jump, the big one?—forty feet down in

a crashing now of vines
and brittle limbs…and hits the
        ground hard, with a thump, and lifts to look back 
        through the canopy.

He’s been up there all our days.

And now he’s going up again.

:: What You Said ::

But before I died I smelled them, I could
        have missed them so quickly rushing elseward.
Captivation depends don’t you think on
        willingness sometimes to be caught be called
back as I was once, wet lowland where they
        were leucojum vernum honey-like “They have
a slight fragrance” and a bright white button
        of blooms “as soon as the snow melts in its
wild habitat” or small pill-shaped pale
        with a green (occasionally yellow)
spot at the end of each tepal. Did you
        find them soothing, did you affiliate
—sane and sacred there—particularly
        in the singing, don’t you think it’s too late.
No I was walking for my health, lean down
        and savor there, heard bleeding the thrush throat
the lilac. You have gone too far you say
        things so as not to say something else. I
did wish to go back.  Then you miss them
        —too early for lilac—tell me where’s elseward—
I don’t even know what were they snowdrops
        snowflakes each to keep and all and passed on
as quick as that, you are everything that
        has not yet been lost is what you said—


From the writer

:: Account ::

Two Igua­nas” takes place on the island of St. John, my favorite Caribbean island, slow-paced, soft-spo­ken, low-tech. Most of the island is pro­tect­ed nation­al wild­land. A cou­ple of years ago, for a week, my girl­friend Page and I watched the exchange between these two big lizards, scaly, long-spined, brown-and-green, each with its pari­etal eye, high up the mas­sive flame tree grow­ing in the wild back­yard of a house where we like to stay on Giftt Hill. Huge tree, tiny dry green leaves, clus­ters of bright red flow­ers, and branch­es that spread out lat­er­al­ly for a good place, if you are an igua­na, to bask. So we sat there, too, on the back deck and watched. The big one seemed to live there in the tree, morn­ing and night, while small­er igua­nas climbed and ate and sunned and went back down to the big nest-hole in the yard. And what a rack­et on the sec­ond day, as the poem describes, when the big one fell or leaped, shak­ing down through the lit­tle leaves and big limbs to the ground. That day I start­ed this poem—as I often do—in deca­syl­lab­ic lines and took it back apart to find this more sin­u­ous lin­eation and stan­za. I’d write a few lines, fid­dle around, and watch some more, and walk around, and write a few more lines. The poem took me all that week most­ly to get in read­able form, and then I fid­dled with it for months more. I think it’s a fair­ly straight­for­ward lyric, intoned with issues of gen­der and power/powerlessness and, of course, under­writ­ten by the lyric poem’s fun­da­men­tal sub­ject, time.

What You Said” is a more oblique or slip­pery poem. Win­ter now, ear­ly March, and back home in cen­tral Ohio, along a street where I often take my con­sti­tu­tion­al walk—two miles in thir­ty min­utes, a pret­ty brisk pace but not so fast I can’t look around. This poem is prob­a­bly more inte­ri­or and its con­nec­tions more sup­pressed, tran­si­tions erased. I’ve been try­ing to write poems for a while now that wor­ry over the notion of a sin­gle speak­er, as if we are a sin­gle per­son, as if the lan­guage in a poem is, in fact, speech. Here one part of the lan­guage seems to be inter­ro­gat­ing anoth­er part—almost like a ther­a­pist would, chal­leng­ing, doubting—while oth­er parts of the lan­guage bub­ble up from unnamed sources. Maybe a book on flow­ers, maybe a dis­tant lover, maybe a line or two from a con­tem­po­rary poet, maybe (well, cer­tain­ly) a touch of phras­ing from Whitman’s lilac ele­gy. My poem is sim­ply about notic­ing the detail, in the snow, of cen­tral Ohio’s first late-win­ter flow­ers, the snow­drop and snowflake (two dif­fer­ent flow­ers), white grow­ing out of the white, and thinks of Whitman’s great ele­gy, anoth­er spring flower poem, as anoth­er kind of com­pan­ion. Who speaks when we speak? Who lis­tens? This one start­ed in pieces and shards and worked toward the ten-syl­la­ble line. I think of blank verse as one of the fun­da­men­tal sites for lyric med­i­ta­tion, that sin­gle inte­ri­or voice, think­ing. But who is think­ing when we think? Who listens?


David Bak­er’s new col­lec­tion of poet­ry, Scav­enger Loop, will appear in May 2015 from W.W. Nor­ton. His Nev­er-End­ing Birds received the Theodore Roethke Memo­r­i­al Poet­ry Prize in 2011, and Show Me Your Envi­ron­ment: Essays on Poet­ry, Poems, and Poets appeared in 2014 from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan Press. He is Poet­ry Edi­tor of The Keny­on Review and lives in Granville, Ohio, where he teach­es at Deni­son University.