Mary Ruefle

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Long White Cloud

How did the bare-bummed child crawling
on the beach in a pink sun-bonnet
learn how to walk by watching seagulls?
How did my mother decide to marry
my father by buffing her nails
then staring at her hands?
How did so many unpronounceable words
come into being? And how many more words
whose meanings are unclear or obscure?
Why do seagulls cry
while landbirds sing?
How did the Agitator of the Soul
become himself so violently agitated?
How could someone crying out
a cloud, a white cloud, a long white cloud
be naming a country?
A country is not a cloud
A cloud is not a country
Only the Agitator of the Soul
would have you believe it
Seabirds cry to be heard over the waves
Landbirds sing to let everyone know who’s king
A silky cornel of red osier
makes good kinnikinnick
My mother gave simple advice to all:
Do not grow up to become a baby
And the baby stood
And the baby took a step
And then another
And the seagulls scattered
into a cloud, a white cloud,
a long white cloud
And the baby cried
Welcome to the land of the living

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