[Hear Art Durkee read these Loren Eiseley poems on Omniversica's Show # 3, recorded 3/6/03.]

*from the book The Innocent Assassins, 1973

Sunset at Laramie

Somewhere beyond Laramie the winding freights
still howl their lonesome message to the dark,
the mountain men lie quiet, wolves are gone,
stars circle overhead, huge missiles lie
scattered in firing pens. Computers watch
with radar eyes pinpointed latitudes.
Gigantic cupped ears listen everywhere—
a bear asleep beneath a winter drift,
his pulse is coded, too; night-flying geese
blip by on horizon screens, slowly we draw a net
converging to ourselves. How strange to hear
trains hoot in blizzards, cattle brawl in cars,
think of the Chisholm trail a century gone, and know
beyond the polar circle other ears now listen.
This daft and troubled century spies and spies,
counts bears' heartbeats, whales' frantic twists and turns.
The background noise of continents drifts in,
captured by satellites. Still far up in the crags
sure-footed mountain sheep climb higher, lift horned heads,
see the night fall below them, hear the train, and stamp
as rams stamp, vaguely troubled, while the glow
on the last peak fades out. Far off a coyote cries,
not in wild darkness, but a haunted night
filled with the turning of vast ears and eyes.


*from the book Notes of an Alchemist, 1972

The Figure in the Stone

Mud spattered, grimed with sweat, upon my door
he beat a loud tattoo
                                and when I opened
held in his hand a precious object there—
to him at least most precious.
                                               When I stood
upon my threshold in a mild surprise
he asked at once:
                            "You are the fellow
the fellow with the bones,
                                   the man who knows
                                                               old things?"
"Well you see," I countered, "I am bothered
with bones and stones, it's true, but there are things
we know and some we don't.
                                           What is it? Who are you?"
"I'm from down there," he answered,
                                          "where we're digging
the subway tunnel,"
                               and I knew he looked
sprung from the clay
                                 of glacial sediments and sand.
"It's a rock," he said, and showed a pebble eagerly.
"You can see a woman,
                                    you can see
a woman carved in it, look at the lines."
He let me take the stone reluctantly.
His thumbnail there was huge.
I turned a desk light on and tried my best.
I washed it, magnified it, turned it
                                    while he tried to show
meanwhile just where the figure lay.
                                          There were
                                scratches the moving ice had
one time made, completely natural
                        and nothing more.
                                           "I think you are mistaken, sir," I
trying to explain what ice could do
when once it marched.
                          That age of shadow grew
and menaced me within the room.
                                        "It is a woman," he protested loudly.
                                                                 His shoulders
bulked like a bear, a savage,
                                             and a true believer
               up from the farther reaches of dead time.
"I tell you that I know and you can see."
I saw it was an icon
                          and an object
such as men cherished in lost caves when only
                the sacred mothers of the tribe
                                            were real.

"It is dark," I said appeasing, "down where
                                                you've been working.
Maybe you've seen what can't be seen up here.
We only see what each of us can see, no more.
Take it if you wish,
                             preserve it, say that no one
except yourself perhaps can be so sure."
                                            He took it like a trusting child,
the bear grown suddenly
                                      gentle again.
                                            He wrapped it close away
in his wet jacket.
                           When I let him out I touched his shoulder.
"Take care of it," I warned, "remember only you can see it clearly."
He listened as though he heard a thing behind me,
turned and went.
                            Always, I thought,
                       leaning against the door, this inner barrier,
always the inscrutable rubric growing fainter
from mind to mind that strives to read the world.
We tried to climb with masks
                                              back into the shape of animals;
            we failed.
We tried
the ever-fecund mothers,
                                       the returning cycles
                                                                    of many
unreturning gods.
                             What is there lies
down in the subway that we have not seen?
What new wild hand is scrawling on the walls
the approaching mammoth and the giant bear?
Softly I turned and looked outside the window
into a rain that never ceased to fall
on men still splotched with clay.

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