Emily Warn is a poet, essayist, teacher, and technologist who most recently served as founding editor of poetryfoundation.org. Born in San Francisco and raised in Michigan, she is the author of three books of poetry:The Leaf Path (1982),The Novice Insomniac(1996) and Shadow Architect (2008). Her essays and poems appear widely, including in Poetry, BookForum,Blackbird, Parabola, The Forward, Narrative, The Seattle Times, and The Writers' Almanac. She taught creative writing at Lynchburg College and The Bush School, and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She currently divides her time between Seattle and Twisp, Washington.
Ox Herding Lesson
The road bends away
from the sea,
through salt meadow hay.
You walk along singing
on the road of white sand
dug from the marsh,
the sea a hushed roar in the distance
where the forge of waves
levels the sand,
spilling its molten silver
at the sandpipers' feet
that scurry, jotting it all down.
Just ahead of you on the road
is an egret, perfectly still,
and shaped like a lamed,
the only letter with its top
in the clouds,
the only letter that leans
like marsh grass,
one eye cocked on ditch water,
the other on clouds—
aloft yet earthbound.
The egret is dwarfed by salt marsh,
which stretches far, far
a wind-flattened white sea of grass
with islands of scraggly myrtles
from it. And dwarf cedars whose outer needles burn
to protect the living sap.
Egrets can stand so still among reeds
that fish mistake their legs for grass.
Why then is this one in the road
when ditches on either side teem
You sit down on hot gravel to ask
the egret listening to you
pierce and swallow
the atmosphere of fishes and clouds.