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THE JERBOA, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: A roman hired an / artist, a freedman
Subject(s): Rodents

A Roman had an
artist, a freedman,
contrive a cone - pine-cone
or fir-cone - with holes for a fountain. Placed on
the Prison of St. Angelo, this cone
of the Pompeys which is known
now as the Popes', passed
for art. A huge cast
bronze, dwarfing the peacock
statue in the garden of the Vatican,
it looks like a work of art made to give
to a Pompey, or native
of Thebes. Others could
build, and understood
making colossi and
how to use slaves, and kept crocodiles and put
baboons on the necks of giraffes to pick
fruit, and used serpent magic.
They had their men tie
and bring out dappled dog-
cats to course antelopes, dikdik, and ibex;
or used small eagles. They looked on as theirs,
impalas and onigers,
the wild ostrich herd
with hard feet and bird
necks rearing back in the
dust like a serpent preparing to strike, cranes,
mongooses, storks, anoas, Nile geese;
and there were gardens for these -
combining planes, dates,
limes, and pomegranates,
in avenues - with square
pools of pink flowers, tame fish, and small frogs. Besides
yarns dyed with indigo, and red cotton,
they had a flax which they spun
into fine linen
cordage for yachtsmen.
These people liked small things;
they gave to boys little paired playthings such as
nests of eggs, ichneumon and snake, paddle
and raft, badger and camel;
and made toys for them-
selves: the royal totem;
and toilet-boxes marked
with the contents. Lords and ladies put goose-grease
paint in round bone boxes - the pivoting
lid incised with a duck-wing
or reverted duck-
head; kept in a buck
or rhinoceros horn,
the ground horn; and locust oil in stone locusts.
It was a picture with a fine distance;
of drought, and of assistance
in time, from the Nile
rising slowly, while
the pig-tailed monkey on
slab-hands, with arched-up slack-slung gait, and the brown
dandy looked at the jasmine two-leafed twig
and bud, cactus-pads, and fig.
Dwarfs here and there, lent
to an evident
poetry of frog grays,
duck-egg greens, and egg-plant blues, a fantasy
and a verisimilitude that were
right to those with, everywhere,
power over the poor.
The bees' food is your
food. Those who tended flower-
beds and stables were like the king's cane in the
form of a hand, or the folding bedroom
made for his mother of whom
he was fond. Princes
clad in queens' dresses,
calla or petunia
white, that trembled at the edge, and queens in a
king's underskirt of fine-twilled thread like silk-
worm gut, as bee-man and milk-
maid, kept divine cows
and bees; limestone brows,
and gold-foil wings. They made
basalt serpents and portraits of beetles; the
king gave his name to them and he was named
for them. He feared snakes, and tamed
Pharaoh's rat, the rust-
backed mongoose. No bust
of it was made, but there
was pleasure for the rat. Its restlessness was
its excellence; it was praised for its wit;
and the jerboa, like it,
a small desert rat,
and not famous, that
lives without water, has
happiness. Abroad seeking food, or at home
in its burrow, the Sahara field-mouse
has a shining silver house
of sand. O rest and
joy, the boundless sand,
the stupendous sand-spout,
no water, no palm-trees, no ivory bed,
tiny cactus; but one would not be he
who has nothing but plenty.

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