The School Bag


Earle Birney

He invented a rainbow but lightning struck it 
shattered it into the lake-lap of a mountain 
so big his mind slowed when he looked at it 

Yet he built a shack on the shore 
learned to roast porcupine belly and 
wore the quills on his hatband 

At first he was out with the dawn 
whether it yellowed bright as wood-columbine 
or was only a fuzzed moth in a flannel of storm 
But he found the mountain was clearly alive 
sent messages whizzing down every hot morning 
boomed proclamations at noon and spread out 
a white guard of goat 
before falling asleep on its feet at sundown 

When he tried his eyes on the lake   ospreys 
would fall like valkyries 
choosing the cut-throat 
He took then to waiting 
till the night smoke rose from the boil of the sunset 

But the moon carved unknown totems 
out of the lakeshore 
owls in the beardusky woods derided him 
moosehorned cedars circled his swamps and tossed 
their antlers up to the stars 
Then he knew though the mountain slept   the winds 
were shaping its peak to an arrowhead poised 

But by now he could only 
bar himself in and wait 
for the great flint to come singing into his heart