Russell Wallace does not weep as the brig burns.
The badly packed balsam had erupted like booze.
His crew is safe, but his catch remains.
The grief is held in check, and waits for rescue,
while monkeys shriek and birds riot on deck.
He will not let one curse exhale, but leans
as if relaxing, and looking for the stars
as he once searched for the dozens of creatures
that leapt from trees in the amazon,
whose homes were wet and breath held clean air.
“Am I their torturer?” he thinks. Wallace the merciless,
who took the New World birds from their horizon,
then squeezed them into a cage, only to let them loose
into this inferno which has only one mast left?
Three years toil, and exile, plunging
deeper into the source of the river,
detailing each form and home.
From all of this, one specimen survives.
A parrot splashes into the Atlantic.
It flies clumsy as a drunk around his life-boat.
There will be time for grief, a time to rest
before he’d catch a new idea in Java.
For now this failure won’t pull him down.
For now he’ll search for stars, like a weight-lifter
exercising a muscle he worries could atrophy.
How do I use this moment?
How do I please the jealous older man
looking at me testing boots against the surface of snow?
But I will not meet him, thankfully, on any train
rudely asking for my seat; he’ll show no interest
in how I went about to spend my younger days.
He'll be indifferent as one hobbyist to another
as a tennis player to a musician.
There will be enough obsessions to fill his hands,
until he’s yearning to get it over soon.
He'll forget the present should be given credence
over a long sleep, prurient down to its essence.
Or perhaps, he’ll feel different.
He'll think as many as there are stones there are fourteen souls
and for every soul there are eighteen mealy-bugs
and as many as their children there are little toads
and for every moist tadpole there lives an obsessive thought;
and the only way to kill that thought will be to crush
a brown egg found inside a duck,
caught inside a hare, logged within an iron chest
buried at the foot of a green oak tree
pitched by the sea onto an island.
SEAN CAMPBELL has seen his work appear in Boston Review, The Critical Flame, The Battersea Review, Poetry Northeast, and Clarion. He holds an MFA from Emerson College and lives and works in Boston.