back to James Dickey

“For the Last Wolverine” by James Dickey (1923 – 1997)
They will soon be down
To one, but he still will be
For a little while still will be stopping
The flakes in the air with a look,
Surrounding himself with the silence
Of whitening snarls. Let him eat
The last red meal of the condemned
To extinction, tearing the guts
From an elk. Yet that is not enough
For me. I would have him eat
The heart, and from it, have an idea
Stream into his gnarling head
That he no longer has a thing
To lose, and so can walk
Out into the open, in the full
Pale of the sub-Arctic sun
Where a single spruce tree is dying
Higher and higher. Let him climb it
With all his meanness and strength.
Lord, we have come to the end
Of this kind of vision of heaven,
As the sky breaks open
Its fans around him and shimmers
And into its northern gates he rises
Snarling complete in the joy of a weasel
With an elk’s horned heart in his stomach
Looking straight into the eternal
Blue, where he hauls his kind. I would have it all
My way: at the top of that tree I place
The New World’s last eagle
Hunched in mangy feathers giving
Up on the theory of flight.
Dear God of the wildness of poetry, let them mate
To the death in the rotten branches,
Let the tree sway and burst into flame
And mingle them, crackling with feathers,
In crownfire. Let something come
Of it something gigantic legendary
Rise beyond reason over hills
Of ice SCREAMING that it cannot die,
That it has come back, this time
On wings, and will spare no earthly thing:
That it will hover, made purely of northern
Lights, at dusk and fall
On men building roads: will perch
On the moose’s horn like a falcon
Riding into battle into holy war against
Screaming railroad crews: will pull
Whole traplines like fibres from the snow
In the long-jawed night of fur trappers.
But, small, filthy, unwinged,
You will soon be crouching
Alone, with maybe some dim racial notion
Of being the last, but none of how much
Your unnoticed going will mean:
How much the timid poem needs
The mindless explosion of your rage,
The glutton’s internal fire the elk’s
Heart in the belly, sprouting wings,
The pact of the “blind swallowing
Thing,” with himself, to eat
The world, and not to be driven off it
Until it is gone, even if it takes
Forever. I take you as you are
And make of you what I will,
Skunk-bear, carcajou, bloodthirsty
Non-survivor.
Lord, let me die but not die
Out.