December 22, 2020

UPWELLING WITH SWEET EELS



This poem by Susan Buis from Gatecrasher might be more explicitly a praise poem than some others in this striking collection (Invisible Publishing, 2019). Its active soundscape makes it, for me, one of the most pleasurable.
 
Susan Buis
OSPREY
 
For the dive, for the strike and clutch
muscles shiver in communion
to hold a hover through gusts 
bending air to arc, wavering
a spread fan, wings tensile
as spring branches. In the gap
before the articulate plunge
all trembles but the eye 
fixed on a brackish creek upwelling
with sweet eels that thrive
in briny confluence and streaks
of red weed swaying in the gullet -- 
weed that's weft for a scavenged
wood warp, mass of nest
to weave another stick through.


From its first line, this swift-moving poem makes the osprey visible. Precise verbs and the repeated word "for" signal a praise poem in the tradition of Hopkins; a poem dedicated to the osprey's majesty and power. By line two, "for" shifts reference to what's purposeful: the "communion" of shivering muscles in service to those actions and "to hold a hover."

At the midpoint, there's another deft shift, this one of focus: from the osprey to its target; and the "trembles" move from air to ground. Everything the bird needs -- food, nest materials -- is provided there in the "brackish creek upwelling." We see everything but the plunge itself; that action happens in a "gap."
 
The closing image shifts from the present moment to a more general observation about osprey-style nest-building, and for me at least takes some careful (and slow) untangling. What guides me through that is the way Buis's word choices and sonic effects intensify and then in that last line fall away, in the clipped sound of the word "stick" and almost-not-there "through." 
 
Yet that "through" is fully realized; the osprey's dive is not the end of the osprey's story, in any sense of finality (though it is an end in the sense of purpose). The poem closes with a gesture that moves through the present moment to the nest-building that's happening offstage, as surely as the "spring branches" the birds' wings are likened to are leafing out.
 



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