Trout for his fish hawk’s clamp,ntorn ducks, shrews, what a congeriesnof the bloated and debrainednI gathered. Two autumnsnI scaled trees Old Longabellyncouldn’t negotiate, bringingnempty nests to earth, and morenthan once a papery hornet’s globe.nI was his retriever as well as cooknand pack beast, and drubbed enoughnfor all three when he was sliding innhis boozing can. Had you crossed usnon some trace, you’d have had to skinnyour best eye to discover menunder skins and dangling corpses,nstrapped about with sacks, hung withnthe jug he replenished at everynsettled turn in the road. Thus piled,nyou might take me for a wanderingnapothecary whilst he trotted ahead,nwheezing under his flintlock,na clay pipe stuck in the bore.nGrog blossoms throve across his facenand he slowed day by day,ndrawing more and more to parlors,ncozening benefactors with hisnbeaded moccasins and a wolf’s toothnat one ear, playing senex to young ladies,nbetwixt times working from modelsntoo long stale. Thereforenhis later plates are without innocencenor belief: creation’s exuberancenisn’t in them, though hearsaynand foozling are, as where his bluengrosbeak graces a meadowlark’s nest.nHours in the dark he starednwhispering to his cup and to the fire.nPerhaps there he saw “the undergroundncastle of the swallows” he portrayednin number 129. And though he led mento riverbanks and trained my eyenApprenticed to the Bird Mastern(American; 18th Century)nby Brendan Galvinnfor the cleanest streaks of ochrenand red earths, and forever wanderednoff trail for a scrape of black leadnor pine-green clay he seemednto know was there — which I’d crushnin the mortar cup and bind as demandednwith beeswax or walnut oilnwhen we had them, or with milknbought on the way, or flournand water, or yolks from any nestnI could chmb to and rifle —,nthough he schooled me in toningnand subtilizing and blending,nand in which roots, shreddednand boiled together, yieldedndark yellows, reds, and blacks —none morning, aged fourteen, I wokennear Charles Town believingnI could endure my hard paymasternno longer, without arrivingnat fiddlestick’s end.nFor he wanted my backgroundnoakwoods vague as clouds, my rocksnmere pedestals for his birds,nnothing to draw the eye from hisnforeground glories. Unlicked cubnthat I was, I could not hold back:nwhen mud to support his avocetnwas called for, I did him an oozenof modulated umbers and greensnhe’d feel between his toes,npayment for all the sloughs I walkednto retrieve whatever lifenhis aim knocked from the air.nnnThe shadows of my pebblesnlean away from the sun, and every bead’snthere in my pod of wild Spanish coffee,nbut those plates, inscribed to his patrons,nwant the name of the boynwho waded cottonmouth watersnfor the swamp snowballnthat overwhelms Longabelly’s greenlet.nAUGUST 1989/27n