On the Metaphors of Prophets

by David Wagoner

Rhetorically, they foresaw the scattering
of seeds on dead ground, devastated orchards
fallen to rot and the embittered ends
of roots suspended hopelessly in the earth,
and look how many generations have listened
and believed because their warnings and laments
and diatribes all sounded terrible.

But missionaries among the Inuit
who tried to sell the Bible had hard times
explaining bread or that all flesh is grass
or bulrushes, lilies, grapes, or any old garden.

And what if those preachers had been born by forests
instead of the hard edges of deserts? What if
their mind’s eyes and their mind’s prophetic ears
had had to go beyond vascular plants
into the netherworld of fungi and ferns
to stake their claims? Would we have believed
some jackals and crows had gobbled all our zygotes?
Would we have worried if told we’d be plucked out
by the rhizoids and cast away? Who would have cared
in the first place if some woman had taken a bite
of sporangium from the Sporangiophore of Knowledge?

David Wagonerr has published 18 books of poems, most recently A Map of the Night (U of Illinois Press 2008), and Copper Canyon Press will publish his 19th, After the Point of No Return, in 2012. He has also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. He was a chancellor the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Northwest Institute of the Literary Arts on Whidbey Island.