Elizabeth Arnold

Natural History of the Soul
May 12, 2013 Elizabeth Arnold

Natural History of the Soul


The song thrush hops, runs, stands,
the guide book says, with its head to one side

listening for worms

just as the lion knew to follow St. Jerome
calmly while they

walked through the priests

who are running for their lives
in Carpaccio’s painting in Venice,

birds opening their beaks

hoping to touch St. Francis who was a lover of views,
especially the one visible from his

home in high Assisi

until natural beauty failed him altogether
once he’d almost died

which turned him

utterly exclusively to concentrate on what can happen
mind-to-mind—body-to-body if you’re lucky.

Barring that

we can’t even hear an earthquake coming,
a volcano at the start

throwing its boulders up

the endless-seeming chimney to the hole
that can be the size of a human head

—as one man learned when he

crawled down
into the crater to see—

or three miles in circumference.

Elizabeth Arnold is the author of three books of poetry—The Reef (University of Chicago Press, 1999), Civilization (Flood Editions, 2006), and Effacement (Flood Editions, 2010). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Slate, Poetry, The Nation, Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, TriQuarterly, Chicago Review, Antioch Review, Tikkun, and Oxford University Press’s Literary Imagination. She is on the MFA faculty at the University of Maryland.