Dave Robinson is the author of the prodigious Sweeney in Effable: Five Books About Enjoying the View. This poem is from his new poetry manuscript, Nocturne in ‘White’ or ‘Yellow’.
by Dave Robinson
A pair of reddish things unearthed beside
green slabs of moss. Their wide threshold of rock
has shifted so light spills in a room of frayed
root hairs. Two wet slender backs that don’t move
across the heat of hands and fingertips.
My kids’ shrieks race, rebound and echo between
the tree trunks: “Look! Look! Salamanders! Two
of them up here!”
Such a strange color, unlike
turned leaves or dropped petals. Reminds me more
of the electric blush on a stovetop’s coil
dimming to black as heat rises and fails.
Nail-bed moons orbit creatures (I don’t yet know
are also known as ‘newts’) with distended eyes,
like mud-filled dimples that peer both up and out.
Whether through stream currents or beneath decayed
logs, how do their eyes work well enough to hunt
snails, breed, spot false thaws? They lie calm, stilled
in hands astonished into gentleness—
thin flushed skin brushing bright, poison-laced skin.
How do these things sleep away winter while damp
all day and night?
It’ll take me weeks to find
that salamanders are newts and these were “red
efts” hatched, at first, larval with visible gills—
and mired efts still turn into aquatic adults!
Three lives to live, while I’m learning in my one
I’ll fail to ruminate long enough on sleep
or hibernation to parse my kids’ wide-eyed
queries about what’s to come.
Instead, with no thought,
I shake a maple to draw a curtain of pink
leaves down through sun and wind into the swift stream . . .
enough to elicit a chorus of elfin gasps.