Leigh Kirkland The 2River View, 6.2 (Winter 2002)

Walking with Thoreau

It must have been hard for him,
to walk in the woods with Emerson, who looked slightly
to one side of the trees and birds radiant before him
to make out an essence more glimmering.
Emerson was amused that Thoreau would draw his diary
out of a breast pocket and read the names
the plants that should bloom each day
whereof he kept account as a banker when his notes fall due:
Dwarf raspberry today,
Lady’s slipper not till tomorrow.

But Emerson was disappointed when on
the finest day, high noon of the year, (joyfully warm
but at night, coldish again)
the two of them rode in a wagon to Perez Blood’s auction
the sweet gale
had already shed its pollen,
the lowest flowers effete.

After Thoreau died Emerson found his friend luminous before him.
The light had changed direction.
No longer a mirror reflecting his imperfections,
Thoreau became a window.
Emerson could finally accept
the strong legs—
wading into Sawmill Brook in stout shoes and strong grey trousers,
to examine Buck-bean, concluding it had been out five days—
as an abstraction,
not recognizing himself the sufficiency
of a single patch of spotted wintergreen.

He warned Thoreau against looking too closely for the bird
that for twelve years he had seen only as it dived into a tree or bush,
lest life should have nothing more to show:
his own fear that the world was less than it might be
countered Thoreau’s determination—
as he carried a music-book under his arm
to press yellow violets,
a microscope to count stamens,
a telescope for spotting birds,
his diary, jack-knife, and twine;
expecting to breast shrub-oaks and smilax,
to climb for a hawk's nest—
that the world was all it needed to be.
Emerson recognized only the redstart,
and the rose-breasted grosbeak by chance.

One Sunday Thoreau had walked with Emerson along the Assabet,
the air full of the Ephemera,
the manna of the fishes,
falling like a snowstorm one day in the year,
only on this river.
High up in the air they could both see
the shad-fly, the true angler’s fly,
blundering down to the river.
The fish eat themselves to death when it comes,
die of repletion: the kingfishers wait.

Thoreau said, What you seek in vain for half your life,
one day you come full upon—all the family at dinner.
You seek him like a dream,
and as soon as you find him,
you become his prey.

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