I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman

I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman by Jude Nutter
Poems by Jude Nutter
University of Notre Dame Press 2009
2010 Minnesota Book Award in poetry
Voted Poetry Book of the Year by ForeWord Review

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selections from this collection

The Helmet

Under the wind’s cold roof we are lost and homeless,
And the flesh is flesh…

Loren Eiseley

You have been lying so long with you face
against the earth that the dirt beneath your cheek
is warm and your teeth have a coating of grit
and dust. In your body, a great heaviness.
As if you had swallowed your own grave. So
it’s true: a man can eat a shallow depression
in the dirt to get his head just below
a sniper’s line of fire. Hour after hour the artillery
and the mortars coax dark mouths to open
in the duff and the muck, and there are times
when a man—photos, long bones, muscles, hardware—opens
with them. While fifty yards away,
where the light is whole and the trees unbroken,
you can see the wind’s white shoulders moving
through the unspoiled grasses.
And how many times in the life you had
before this one did you cross, without thinking,
walking upright and whistling, a distance
of fifty yards? When the man right beside you dies,
you know it, without looking: at the heart
of the barrage, beneath the cough of mortars,
enveloped in flame and slaughter, you feel,
far off, on the inside of your body,
a new loneliness. First
there is nothing more than his great stillness;
then, around his head in the dirt, the long-
furled banner of his blood appearing. Under
the skull’s curve, inside
the heavy meat of the brain, the rooms
of his mind, their doors blown open, stand empty.
You notice his hair, darkened with sweat,
a fold of skin above the collar of his battle dress;
how sunlight is thrust like a dowel
through the tidy stigma the bullet has punched
in his helmet, which has come to rest beside you,
now, on the battlefield. Alive or not,
each man here is equally dead; and so, in a lull
behind a screen of smoke, you put on
his helmet, aware that a helmet pierced by a bullet
will help you, until the danger has passed or darkness
falls, in feigning death. And so the mind begins to rehearse
its own oblivion.

Long before he knocks off the helmet to press
the narrow rictus of the Luger against your temple,
you smell the breath of the barrel. He is your age—
no more than twenty—and his eyes are ransacked, empty,
the windows of a mansion gutted by fire. But after holding
your gaze for the briefest moment, he steps back

and holsters his pistol; and flat in the dirt,
in a fever of grief and fatigue, you are no longer sure
if he is real, or a dream with a heart made kind
by carnage and darkness, or even which possibility
you might prefer. Either way, after holding your gaze
for the briefest moment, he stepped back
and holstered his pistol. Either way, he has passed you over.

by Jude Nutter

Copyright Jude Nutter. All rights reserved. First published in MARGIE: American Journal of Poetry 3 (2004).

The Insect Collector’s Demise

On mornings free of cloud the insects
mistake my windows for clean platters
of sky and knock against them, seeking entry.

Some make hardly a sound—a sand grain
blown against glass; but others—butterflies,
for instance, kiss a bit harder and leave behind

a whiplash of dust. The mind is a jailer
whose job it is to wake us
when we are not sleeping and I

am suddenly the child I used
to be, running amuck through the garden
with my killing jars and my nets; a child

so in love with the world that she carried
pieces of it everywhere so she would never forget.
There was nothing beautiful

in such dying, in such bluster and panic. My net
had a mesh as soft as a stocking and it held
the scent of chemicals and breakage—a bitterness

like tarnished metal. Every day
there were items left behind—torn wings
like scraps of propaganda, the leg

of a cricket like a dropped hat pin. Forget
formaldehyde and ethyl acetate, forget
the suspect, precarious terrains

into which all collectors go
for a rare specimen; imagine what happens
to a child in that moment

when the matte-black pin, thin as a horse hair,
breaches a cricket’s lacquered façade and passes
smoothly, and without resistance, through

the body beneath. In the killing jar,
the crickets were the worst of all—their leaps
against the glass the music

of someone fiddling with the small change
in his pocket. What hubris
to think the insects loved their lives

any less than I loved mine. Each one
a verb snatched from the world’s mouth.
This is how I grew afraid of details, of all

the precisions of suffering and fell in love
with landscapes viewed from a distance, where
it was everything I could not see

that saved me; where, if there were animals
they were small and clean on the earth’s
green manicure: sunlight washing like varnish

over the backs of black cattle in the fields; sheep,
falling to their knees to get closer
to the sweetest, lower stems of the grass.

And being rewarded. From a distance
each tree was a green trawl of light.
Too far away to hear the leaves’ sad

fricative or every tiny murder
in the dirt, this was a world
in which even the hooves and the teeth

of the horses grazing under the eaves of an oak
had never once hurt the grasses; there were
no blast zones of pewter feathers,

no fluster of corruption or scandal
on the leaves’ plain crockery;
no ticks dug in between the jackdaw’s

feathers, not a single moth like a banner
in the jaws of an ant. Not a single ant
in a blackbird’s beak. At the end

of every trouble, I thought, were fields
like this, fields like sunlit platforms.
God’s failed attempts at imagining paradise.

It was everywhere I wasn’t: I could step
right into it and never arrive;
it was always behind me, where the grass

had already shrugged off
the dark kiss of my small boots.
And before me the wrestle of the river,

all purpose and no wastage, and I could feel
the trout’s perfect fit within it
where the current grew snug on the inside curve.

I have wasted my life trying to enter this promise.
I will waste whatever life I have left.
In the inch-deep darkness of a tree’s body, the egg

of the ichneumon, that persuasive burglar, lies
next to the egg of the wood wasp.
What the world gives, the world

then takes away.

by Jude Nutter

Copyright Jude Nutter. All rights reserved. First Published in The Missouri Review 31.1. Spring (2008).