“Minor Gods” by Walter Bargen

Walter Bargen


Another roadside bomb, another suicide
bomber, another dozen blind-folded, hands-tiedbehind-
the-back bodies found half buried at the town
dump—it’s how a Saturday explodes until I turn off
the radio and look out the east window at a tabby
crouched in explosive morning light and acting strangely.

I hurry outside to rescue an eight-inch-long, pencil-thin,
ring-neck snake before it is playfully eviscerated.
A hundred yards into the woods, the palm heat
of cupped hands has pacified its coiled panic
and I scold it to be more careful before it calmly
slithers into a brush pile and into another ambush.

Balanced between two flood lights on the west wall,
phoebes again build a nest out of moss and spittle,
and I build a four-foot-high fence on the ground below them.
They quickly abandon their efforts as if not understanding
what I’m trying to keep out and keep in. Occasionally,
I see their bobbing drab-gray tails on a nearby branch.

I leave the fence standing. Of course, I blame
the cats without evidence of guilt. Weeks later,
the phoebes return, the same pair or different,
I don’t know, following seasons of failed attempts
on every wall of the house, including the black snake
that scaled ten feet of siding to eat the hatchlings.

From the kitchen window, I watch them fly back
and forth through the gauntlet of clawed hunger,
too early to know ends except this flying.
Either the gods are omnipotent and not good,
according to Epicurus, just look at this world, or they are
good and not omnipotent, look at these phoebes.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006

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