The Magazine

A Natural Poet

Earthly delights in the shade of Robert Frost.

Nov 26, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 11 • By ANN STAPLETON
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We are the lonely ones, the narrow-
     bedded.

Our last “good nights” are interchanged
     below.

Then up cold stairs alone—the odd, the
     unwedded.

What do we know of night? What do we
     know?

What do we know except that night is
     blindness,

That on a bed one sleeps, or lies awake,

That after too long waking sleep is
     kindness,

That for the unsleeping, day will 

     sometime break?

Oh, we know more. We can tell you how
     wind sounded

On windy nights, and how the writhing
     rain

Hissed on the roof, mice gnawed, and
     something pounded

Over our head—or under the counterpane.

We are the lonely ones. When we are
     dead

We’ll be well suited to a narrow bed. 

Suppression of such an essential aspect of Francis’s nature might well be the battery that runs the silver timepiece of his art. But if this alone were his subject, its appeal would be limited, and Francis’s best poems—such as the one above, such as all good poems—are meant for anyone, and are everlasting. Perhaps Francis’s true subject is the silent one who goes uncomforted (What do we know of night?), the wind’s last friend, who’s always been; that patiently waiting and painfully hopeful stone man with a beating heart. 

Francis was a connoisseur of loneliness, an authority and specialist. In “Cypresses,” his Trees / Of Death (teaching birds / In little schools, by little skills, / how to be shadows) embody Always an attitude of solitude / To point the paradox of standing / Alone together. In “Ladybird, Ladybird,” a tiny red beetle (on the parchment shade of [a] reading lamp) becomes a saving grace: a tall tale / I could tell if I wanted to / for no one to believe: an angel / sent to cheer a lone man’s evening chair. The two beggars who are turned away with nothing to eat in “Two Bums Walk Out of Eden” leave a little / Briskly as men heedful to waste no time— / As men bending their steps toward due appointments. In “Eagle Soaring,” the solitary writer is depicted as a raptor wheeling high, Above all in the complete undistraction / And extreme loneliness of his observational. 

In “Remind Me of Apples,” Francis writes to an anonymous “someone” in the language of light, touching briefly on what we love and are losing; he is the stone man who waits for us, trying to remember it all, keeping watch:

When the cicada celebrates the heat,

Intoning that tomorrow and today

Are only yesterday with the same dust

To dust on plantain and on roadside
     yarrow—

Remind me, someone, of the apples
     coming,

Cold in the dew of deep October grass,

A prophecy of snow in their white flesh.

 

In the long haze of dog days, or by night

When thunder growls and prowls but will
     not go

Or come, I lose the memory of apples.

Name me the names, the goldens, russets,
     sweets,

Pippin and blue pearmain and seek-no-
     further

And the lost apples on forgotten farms

And the wild pasture apples of no

     name.

Ann Stapleton is a writer in Ohio.

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