The Existing Pool

by Hayden Carruth

Begin with a pool. The deepening
bed of a mountain brook
will do, where swift water quietens.
Ours is the Sheep Hole

where years ago, before the sheep
and their herdsmen all went west,
the flocks were driven
each springtime

for a good dunk before they were shorn.
It lies
below the Shinglemill Bridge
where a wheel once took the fall

at the pool's brim
to drive sawblades for shingles
years ago
before the cedars were exterminated.

But any pool will do. Let
it be clear, quiet,
and if, like ours,
it is guarded by yellow birches and elms

whose overleaning branches
darken the surface near the edge
leaving the center clear,
so much the better.

Look now, lean closer, see
down to the brook-bed, the pebbles there,
mosaic of intricate antique,
green, gray, red,

and then above them, between
you and the water
like a window
or like another eye encompassing your eyes,

the gleaming reflected sky.
How this light clings to the surface!
A triumph, so tactile
you could peel it

or turn it like a page,
and yet what is it?
The pebbles below, green, gray, red,
gleam as before. Throw

two more pebbles---left, right.
Ripples shake the light
and reflections dance
like new mosaic dappling

above the fixed
mosaic beneath, or like thought
dancing upon the face
of reality.

Poof, a poor figure with neither originality
nor grace, and the others too,
these inventions of yours,
guardian trees, mosaics, windows, dancing---

all absent. Reality and unreality
are your ways of looking into the pool
for the pool has neither.
The pool "has" nothing at all.

Some of you make your looking
into marks on a page and call it an object,
but see, it is absent, a memory,
perhaps a premonition,

and if it have
beauty or meaning, so
will the cedars
not growing in our woods.

A long time I have looked
in the pool. The surface
is placid again.
It has gathered together,

unformed, the light
that shines above the pebbles.
It will always
gather together.

[from Dark Worlds (1974), reprinted in Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991: Copper Canyon Press]
Copyright © 1974, 1992 by Hayden Carruth.

Reproduced for personal use only: do not circulate.