Lhude sing cuccu

With a puppy in the house, I have had occasion lately to be reminded of the poem “Cuckoo Song,” also known by its first line, “Sumer is icumen in,” which is the first poem in both of the editions of the Oxford Book of English Verse that I happen to own. In particular, the second verse has seemed pertinent:

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu;
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
Murie sing cuccu!

Or, to modernize it slightly, thereby ruining the rhymes:

Ewe bleats after lamb,
Cow lows after calf;
Bullock leaps, buck farts,
Merry sing cuckoo!

It’s the verting of the bucke that makes the poem, in my opinion. It’s so homely and unexpected—so unexpected that for a long time I’ve carried around in my head the notion that perhaps deer really do fart more in the early summer than at other times of the year. After all, ewes are more likely to have lambs then, and cows calves. I speculated that maybe in late spring deer start to eat grass and leaves in greater quantities, and maybe it takes their digestive systems a little while to adjust, and in thirteenth-century England, where deer and humans lived in gunpowder-free proximity, people noticed.

Maybe. But thanks to the internet, I see that a hunter in Texas heard a whitetail doe startle her fellow deer in January, and there are a couple of videos of farting deer available online, posted in October and November, so I’m guessing that deer fart year-round, not just in June, and that the poet intended for farting deer, like leaping bullocks, to signify a general, seasonless exuberance.


You shall be the rose you see
And the cardinal’s cry you hear.
No frost will come, when north is south,
To end the cutworm’s year.

And you shall be the breeze you feel
Caress you with a sigh.
But songbirds’ breasts will pillows be
For mites that never die.

And you shall be the bud that starts,
And petals as they fall,
And the sixfold mouth that eats the bud
That never starts at all.


The New Climate

One day Grandmother drove us away from such a sky,
Iron gray, clotted like mud, leaking light
Like sheets stripped from a bed in a dim room and thrown
Over a lamp still plugged in. She held our fear
With hers at the steering wheel; for play, my sister and I
Watched trees bow and arch, and wondered if we might
See cyclones. One crossed the road behind us, we learned by phone
Near Houston, by only half an hour. How sharp the air
Then smelled. We were so young, we would never die
And thought it clever to have preceded fate with flight,
Instead of lucky, or, as she might say, if alone,
Blessed. To keep us from such knowledge was her care
    And our adventure, an order changed if the sky here,
    In Brooklyn, is the same that came after us there.


The western papers write that cyclones have
Moved east. A flood has touched the engine of a
Responsibly small car. In the park
My dog and I watch the wind stretch north
The branches of trees, as an archer a bow, while stony
Clouds are pulled south with the completeness
Of a slide lifted out of a projector.


Like Christmas in Australia, or the idea of spring
In some future Texas, desertified and changeless,
May metaphor survive the world it comes from,
As a boy leaves home, a baby her bottle,

Losing the thing without abandonment
In feeling. May stars stay eternal
After falling, for example, and lovers
Recollect themselves, in their unhappiness,

By gazing at a memory of stars,
After stars per se have been obscured.
The pique of losing summer, the stir in the heart
When winter’s fist has grown too weak to hold us—

May they still symbolize, when heat
Has no more seasons, and lead us into feeling
It’s now the turn of stars to go missing
For a while, and then come back.