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Author: Rob Thornton

The Green Shank

Miklós Radnóti, marched from forced labour

in Yugoslavia back into Hungary, came to rest

near a bend in the Radca, at what his translator

describes as “a strange lonely place” where

the tributary joins “the great river,” a marshland

watched over by willows and “high circling birds.”

Condors perhaps—they appear in the notes and

poems he was writing—under a foamy sky.

Huddled in a trench with the body of a friend

who’d been shot in the neck, he wrote with a pencil

stub in his notebook: patience flowers into death.

His wife’s face bloomed in his head.

Thinking of the petals of crushed flowers

floating in a wake of perfume, he wrote to caress her

neck. The fascists’ bullets wiped out his patience.

His written petals survive.

Today, we listen to the news of war

here in a river sanctuary my wife’s unbending

will has created—horizontal slats of cedar, verticals

of glass—a Mondrian chapel of light.

This afternoon just before dark the first

greenshank arrived from the Hebrides.

Ignorant of human borders, its migration

technology is simple: feathers

and fish-fuel, cryptic colour and homing

instinct. This elegant wader landed on a mooring,

got ruffled in the westerly, then took off again,

an acrobatic twister, and levelled down

onto a mudflat—a lone figure that dashed across

the shore, stood on one leg, then, conducting

its song with its bill, came forward

in a high-stepping dance.

from The Goldfinches of BaghdadFind more by Robert Adamson at the library

Copyright © 2006 Robert Adamson
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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