May 2000

Betty Adcock


Betty Adcock is author of five books of poems including The Difficult Wheel (LSU, 1995) and the forthcoming Intervale: New and Selected Poems. In 1996, she received both the Texas Institute of Letters Prize for Poetry and The North Carolina Award for Literature. Since 1983, she has been Kenan Writer in Residence at Meredith College in Raleigh. This year she is also teaching in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

Renovated Zoo, Now Called Habitat    Click to hear in real audio

Here is their better life, each kind in place
where low walls and cunning moats address
an almost beautiful, almost spacious,
almost accurate wilderness.

Now the lion's warm breath can feather
great clouds on a larger winter;
the wolf trots longer now to burn
his pacing's pattern on a lengthened run;
and we see more of the lustrous otter's
turning into underwater's
sudden turning into glass.

Jungle and savanna, shrewd mirages,
sing semblance verging on suburban,
bait at which an aging leopard lunges.
Elephants, our lapsing emblems
of the Pleistocene's parade,
in thunder-colored skins go under
imported trees, imported shade.

On the tiger passant, light and dark engage,
limning the memory of an antique cage
forward and back, and back, and back
in a roil and stride of silk and rage
as if he mocks the old constricting track.

What comes here after dark? Not ease.
Perhaps our city's nightmare comes
to each of these, and shaped as they are shaped:
clawed fierce-footed if that is right,
beaked and flying if it flies,
or coiling and uncoiling with red eyes—
our fantasy assailing as our manufacture takes
them into art and absence and desire.



To Tai Lane Ruinsky, Granddaughter    Click to hear in real audio

Written on the eve of her arrival from China,
aged 7 months, in celebration of her adoption

You will come to us with the other
landscape in your eyes, your hands
still cupped around the air of Jiangxi,
province of rice paddies and water buffalo
and the early porcelain makers.
You will wear around you a paradox
of solemnity and dazzle, sunsparks
on sober distances of the River Gan.
Behind you, the years in their thousands
are massed, murmuring like boats
poled across heavy water.

Your mother has fashioned a shining
nursery. There, under the yellow quilt
printed with gentled animals,
you will go on traveling awhile,
taking your time at arrival.

What may stay: a flutter at the edge of vision,
blue wing over dark water, silver
fishtail fan at a pond's edge, a whisper
of tattered silk. Your village is a poor one,
your province famous for peasant uprisings.
You will keep the color red for good fortune,
red for the spilt blood of your people,
and jade for the fingers of new rice.

In your throat, you hold the first stirrings
of an ancient dialect; in your ears
a sound of bells like audible mist
that will fade
                                or stay only
in dreams after the American light
enters you, that light lovely as summer
on the best field and foolish with plenty,
its history of freedoms and failures
dangerous too, chiaroscuro
with its own red source.

We will wait with our burdens
as you join your parents' house.
We offer all that we are and were.
From your father: Eastern Europe, 
the lost, whole populations of smoke;
and the immigrant prayers of the tailor
from Poland, the tailor from Russia.
From your mother, from her father and me
all the American contradictions: slaveholders,
tenant farmers, teachers, factory workers,
a carpenter-preacher, an herbalist-midwife.
And our present selves: one word-chaser and one
playful man with a flute that can laugh and weep.

When your voice begins to build
our words, when your hands begin
to grasp our hands,
our images replacing the old shadows,
your mother will be singing to you
all the songs I sang to her. Your father
will remember all the games of his childhood.

We will graft your tree to our tree,
your river to ours—numberless tributaries!
We will live on one bank of the mystery,
that widened and deeply shaded water.
So many boats are perfectly
stilled in the harbor; see how they join
to make the bridge on which you, child,
will cross and recross, dancing
this difficult story.



Betty Adcock: Poetry
Copyright � 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 11The Cortland Review