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“All occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.”
—John Donne

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For books at bn.com by Walt McDonald

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Walt's webpage at Academy of American Poets

Ploughshares

Walt's webpage

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Walt McDonald Walt McDonald


Doctors, Lawyers, Undertakers

Sue said we couldn't tell turtles from knuckles
in soup. She worked with worms,
turned fourth-grade girls and boys

away from baseball and hop scotch
to biology. See that? she asked
and stepped back from the microscope,

so we, lined up, could look,
a bit of tissue from inside her lip
displayed naked on the stage.

That's how we look to worms,
she confessed, sticky cell fiber,
tasty enough to eat.

Sue patted us on the back
and looked us in the eye,
examining our brows, the shape

of our gritted jaws and skulls,
forecasting our futures.
She made us call her Sue,

our teacher in love with flesh
and the leveler worm, even us—
some of us peeking Wow! into worlds

of microscopes and slides,
some flipping fingertips
when they backed away,

not knowing what to say
with pinched or puckered lips,
some simply green.


A Little World Made Cunningly

Carl Sagan thought the billions and billions of stars
the Hubble telescope saw were possibly a molecule
inside a massive universe whose size we can't imagine.
But (forefinger up)—what if that monstrosity

is only an atom of another universe more vast?
What a Brobdingnag of galaxies the final big-bang size
would be—unless final limits the infinite too much
for words. I remember pictures of me as a toddler

when my mother and father were the world.
Flip the Hubble, focus on a mote of dust
on anyone's nose, a molecule: inside,
another universe, a billion light years wide.

Think of a billion molecules in the legs
of each of us, each with a billion... and so on.
Imagine a minuscule Lilliputian kid inside a galaxy
inside your own left eye, skipping along

to a candy store with a dime. Drops it, dusts it off.
Each dust mote thousands of molecules across,
each tiny atom a cosmos. Maybe it doesn't matter,
if we're helpless, and maybe we'll never know.

No wonder when I sat with Mother for hours
between nurses' rounds, I had no love of knowledge,
the last thing on my mind astronomy.
When she opened her eyes her last long night,

I didn't wonder how many billions of galactic,
giddy girls might be in tiny high schools
inside her, in every atom of cancer, didn't ponder
how many angels danced on her IV needle.

I wanted only one to give comfort, more relief
than I'd ever give when every second seemed
like a world without end, and every year
with that woman who bore me was too brief.


Time Lines in Montana

No past or present, only the next step
for a grizzly matters, the next
wide mouthful of berries or rotting flesh.
Maybe a mountain goat caught in an avalanche,
buried while the grizzly dozed under snow.

Thawed, now, enough to come back to
for days, jaws ripping long thigh muscles,
eating with an open mouth. Blinks,
turns this way and that, restless,
already wondering what's next.