The Armadillo

The Armadillo

by Elizabeth Bishop

For Robert Lowell

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars--
planets, that is--the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,

or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,

receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair

of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft!--a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry! O falling fire and piercing cry and panic,
and a weak mailed fist clenched ignorant against the sky!

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Miscellany


Other poems by Elizabeth Bishop (read randomly)


We must admire her perfect aim,
this huntress of the winter air
whose level weapon needs no sight,

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated

From Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fi …
please come flying.
In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,

I live only here, between your eyes and you,
But I live in your world. What do I do?
--Collect no interest--otherwise what I can;

Out on the high "bird islands," Ciboux and Hertford …
the razorbill auks and the silly-looking puffins al …
with their backs to the main...

A new volcano has erupted,
the papers say, and last week I was reading
where some ship saw an island being born:

Minnow, go to sleep and dream,
Close your great big eyes;
Round your bed Events prepare

Beneath that loved and celebrated breast,
silent, bored really blindly veined,
grieves, maybe lives and lets

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides

Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges

Caught -- the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;

At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake …
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkwa...

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