Under the Shingle of the Malpractitioner

A single crow is fixed like an incorrect sign to the dead limb
   of a sycamore.
It creaks in a cold wind that squeezes the stiff ice in the trees.
On the plain below, somebody built a building and then went away.
Beyond the building, as vague as an erasure,
The wooded hills fail sunless into the uninhabitable vacancy
   of the north.
In any direction, nothing moves but that the blank wind moves it
As though something between time and eternity were left ajar
And during the night, dry death walked through, calling across the distances
   to whatever was his.
–June 7, 1976

(“Under the Shingle of the Malpractitioner” appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of The Lullwater Review, Emory University GA.)


I am full of contradictions. My distrust of what lurks in the depths of human nature and of how misunderstanding of my highly atypical personality is likely sooner or later to stir it to the surface, runs counter to my equally passionate delight in human company, and in direct proportion to this delight I have a more-than-average dread of desertion and solitude, yet, to extend my contradictoriness still further, desertion and solitude are my almost constant environment and my constitution is able to bear vast durations of it without entering despair. But as a way of trying to relieve the suffering of it, I tried to capture this environment nearly a quarter of a century ago in the poem at hand, the “malpractitioner” of the title referring to that evil presence in the world, both exterior and interior, which defeats human happiness and the “shingle” (like an MD’s shingle) being the bird of ill-omen in the first line. Though written in June, the setting is the view from my old office window during the January break in the school year when the buildings and grounds of the college where I taught were abandoned.

Published on November 9, 2006 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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