Before and After

I have never heard a bittern
though I have been birding by ear
for years and years.
Who cooks for you?
Drink your tea! Drink your tea!
Before the bitter, light underside of the leaves
engulfs you. Before wind blows
in some bye corner of the universe, the bough breaks
and a branched baby dies.
After a donut, while the sugar is still on your lips.
The bittern does not sing so much as he gulps air.
We were tadpoles. Tadpoles.
One thousand, two thousand years ago
a squirrel could cross the North American continent
without touching ground.
Happiness makes me tired.
I never meant to be a living exclamation mark,
a bolt of joy hurtling toward the dark mass
of pointed sorrow,
but I sprang in the morning to reach the kettle
before it whistled.
After I’ve done something useful—
boiled water, taken a shower—
the mirror steams.
The rest of the time I wipe it,
so that slowly, over the years, a procession of faces
has appeared and disappeared.
Before I die I would like to hear the nightingale.
On the whole, recordings are not faithful.
Even on short nights, the pond evaporates.
The poverty stricken often have urges.
The truly hungry cannot eat much.
At night, in an igloo, the condensation causes it to snow.
Doesn’t the house seem smaller?
A patient near death may frequently look at his hands
When it is written on his face. Bitterly strange.
Bitterly. Listen, it’s strange.