from This Broken Symmetry

(Marmot)

And so for a figure of the creature consider the marmot,
Clawed probing forepaws more accomplished than pickaxes
At parsing stones from earth, carting each off in its teeth,

Rock pile like a mound builder’s where its burrow tunnels
Under, spread mat of grass at the entry, in the “living rooms”
Where only one family lives, where the generations follow

There on the high meadows with the other families together
Slowly expanding underground their lone itinerant systems
As one stands sentry: whistles, chatter, a warning beat of tail.

And for “this creature,” her friend called her, “who was at war
With her life,” who saw desire to eat, nothing but “a function
Base, disgusting”: consider now a marmot in hibernation,

How for months the thing curls into itself, eating nothing
And growing heavier, the body’s stored, patient sustenance
Like the lungs’ rapt fixation on air, or heart’s dimmed pulse—

Life’s nascent death, then a slow winnowing back into spring…
“A very fine thing to take as a model,” she says, refusing
Any increase in rations for years of “alimentary restrictions,”

Her food gifted to Vichy camps for the enemies of Hitler.
And the marmot as marmot? A species profligate in the Alps,
On Carpathian steppes, cousin to the American prairie dog,

Extinct now in the Pyrenees from the Pleistocene; dominant
Females stress competitors to miscarriage; a marmot’s stored
Fat believed prudent for rheumatism; every baby born blind.

Daniel Tobin

Daniel Tobin

Daniel Tobin is the author of nine books of poems, most recently From Nothing, winner of the Julia Ward Howe Award, The Stone in the Air, his suite of versions from the German of Paul Celan, and Blood Labors.He is author of the critical studies Awake in America, Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, and On Serious Earth. Tobin is also editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems of Lola Ridge, Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Arts (with Pimone Triplett) and To the Many: Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge. His poetry has won the "The Discovery/The Nation Award," The Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, among other honors.
Daniel Tobin

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Author: Daniel Tobin

Daniel Tobin is the author of nine books of poems, most recently From Nothing, winner of the Julia Ward Howe Award, The Stone in the Air, his suite of versions from the German of Paul Celan, and Blood Labors. He is author of the critical studies Awake in America, Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, and On Serious Earth. Tobin is also editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems of Lola Ridge, Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Arts (with Pimone Triplett) and To the Many: Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge. His poetry has won the "The Discovery/The Nation Award," The Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, among other honors.