On the Move by James Arthur

Now that my work’s done and it’s Saturday,
now that my young son is out somewhere
with his mom, I might as well roam all morning,
spying on the filthy squirrels, and on the shapes
that disintegrating leaves have painted on the sidewalk.
I might as well spend the morning talking to myself,
hoping for meaning and unmeaning to braid
and begin teaching me what to say.

Some days I feel like a monarch at wing, meandering,
not really deciding where I go—
as programmed as the stubborn birds
building nests of twigs and spit. Each bird pipes the song
that it was taught, and transmits the song
to its own offspring.
Earthworms, driven up by last night’s rain, have squirmed
onto the asphalt to slowly fry.
I save some, who glue and wriggle,
but there are just so many. They almost seem to want to die.

Day by day, I’m feeling my way into fatherhood,
learning what my son is to me, and I to him;
my boy, my kid, an eight-toothed homunculus
clutching an acorn in his fist, bewildered
that a paper plate set down in the grass on a windy day
won’t stay put, but lofts, and spins away.

By the time I’m downtown, I’m turning back,
in thought, if not yet with my feet.
Before I’m back on my own street,
I’ll have twice walked by the little wedge of ground
where people of this neighborhood
bury their dead dogs and cats. A rawhide bone;
a ball of yarn, water-logged by the frowsy rain.
Animals have never meant very much to me,
but I’ve got them on the brain these days—

how magnetic navigation brings spawning salmon home;
how predation, variation,
and the winnowing-down of things gave shape
to a world of species, giving them gills, wings,
and feet. But I’d rather be dead than be a creature
of any other kind. I walk upright, practicing
the song of my species, by speaking.


Copyright © James Arthur. Originally published in the Little Star 5 (2013).


James Arthur was born in Connecticut and grew up in Canada. He is the author of the poetry collection The Suicide’s Son (Véhicule Press 2019) and Charms Against Lightning (Copper Canyon Press 2012). Arthur’s poems have appeared in The New YorkerPoetry, The New York Review of Books, and The London Review of Books. He has received the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, a Hodder Fellowship, a Stegner Fellowship, a Discovery/The Nation Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship to Northern Ireland, and a visiting fellowship at Exeter College, Oxford. He teaches at Johns Hopkins University. Find James on Twitter @jamesarthurpoet.

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