at Length

Scavenger Loop

—David Baker


Buddy, can I look?   
But he’s already
arm-deep in the pile I’ve dragged
all morning, piece by piece, to the curb.

He’s a seasoned picker
—I can tell—his CRV backed up
right to the rubble and
hatchback popped open, half-full, at 9 a.m., of

whatnots and what-ifs:  heirloom
silver in a hand-tooled box, a baby’s clothes, books
in bright wrappers.
He’s come from a county away

to score—his term—whatever he can
the day before
our village “free-for-haul”
is officially underway.

In the wild, animals lie where they die, thus placing them into the
scavenger loop.  The upshot is that the highly concentrated animal
nutrients get spread over the land, by the exodus of flies, beetles, etc.


You need to get home as soon as you can.
The doctor thinks you should come back, right now—


Dustscaewung . . . a kind of daydream of dust, a pondering of that
which has been lost:  dust-seeing, dust-chewing, dust-cheering.  The
daydream of a mind strung between past and present.

Row on row of rich green stalks.


Something is coming more than we know how.

An hour ago on Facebook one newly
friended friend posted:  Repeal Monsanto
Protection Act, as it “deregulates
the GMO industry from any
court oversight.”  This status update was
“shared” from a status update which picked it
from someone else’s status, and so on.
Seventy-seven people “like” this post—
a record for me, my new friend comments
in the comment box of her own update,
a complex and mobile intimacy . . .


as in old woods, as                  when a single tree
dies, and starts to rot,              yet it may remain
for decades.  “More than        a third of the bird
species depend on                   standing dead trees,
both for their food and            for nesting places.”
The body decays and              the larvae of some
“specialist beetles”                 process the wood for
tiny tastes of nu-                    tritious starch inside—
their burrows, maybe              only “one to three
millimeters wide,”                   spill a powdery
sawdust as they chew:            powderpost, deathwatch,
tinder polypore,                       sulfur shelf, sapsucker—.
The wood returns to               the soil as humus.

The road out of town . . .
and always the same roadback—

The USDA projected 2013 US corn production at 14,140 million bus,
based on the Prospective Plantings number of 97.3 million acres planted,
8% average abandonment resulting in harvested area of 89.5 million
acres, and an average yield of 158 bus an acre.


I am her son       sign here       She’s my mother


I am up to a hundred “likes” OMG


Apologizes to the doctor       that’s she dying—

Cessation of the furosemide loop
diuretic, cessation of O2


That’s a pacemaker not a defib who—


She sang “Yellow Bird” when she was happy—


1 farmer :: 151 consumers
farm and ranch families < 2%
of the national population—


Her mysteries her bells her soaps her coats—


Didn’t this used to be Johnny’s Sinclair?—


When I asked what she needed—water—soup—
she said Seven-up        tiramisu!


When we reduce biodiversity by breaking up the forest for our
backyards, we accidentally free undiluted disease organism[s]
to operate at full strength . . .


You may not be tired but I’m tired—


Night sky so vast       hear the wheat roar—

SmartStax RIB Complete, a single bag refuge
solution against earworm, army worm.

Row on hundreds of rows of rich green stalks—
knee high by the 4th of July and eight

feet or more before the fall—Monsanto
“offers corn farmers the ability

to control weeds and pests with a single
seed through a process known as ‘trait stacking.’”

Thus DroughtGard Hybrids, VT Triple PRO
for above-ground insect protection stacked with

below-ground rootworm protection and Round-
Up Ready 2 Technology to fight

Goss’s Wilt, Gray Leaf Spot, chronic drought, corn
borer . . .


rummaging the trash heaps they find—


We deny that we are animals and part of the wheel of life, part
of the food chain.  We deny that we are part of the feast and
seek to remove ourselves from it, even though we kill and
consume animals by the billions and permanently remove the
life resources for many more.  But not one animal is allowed to
consume us, even after we are dead.  Not even the worms.

Give him some money    Is it muddy there
is it    Four up five up six up sevenup seven up    Can we go now    I want
to go now please    David some money    Pleaseis it nice is it muddy is it some
money    Sweet the    Hmm    Hmm    Let’s go todayI want to go    Tomorrow    Sun    Today
What can you see already from the chairIs it    Bubbles I like them    Must can we go
Hmm    Eight up nine up eleven twelve—David Philip Dayle David Philip Dayle
those are my men    What can you see nowoh grace the Come on     Come now    Oh no my
is it muddy honey awful I’m not–

I’m just a picker, he says.
It’s a hobby, not subsistence.  Leastways not
hereabouts.  Treasure hunter,geocacher, scrounge . . .

skawage, Middle English :: customs—as from

escauwage, Old North French :: inspection—as from

scēawian, Old English :: to look at—or lately

with some “semantic drift,” English :: show—


decomposers and detritivores complete the process by consuming

remains left by scavengers—

She was fifteenmaybe, riding her bike those long evenings
down old AA where it all turned blacktop
and gravel past the Lindsey place farther
than the quarry pool.  Evening fireflies
above the soybeans.  Swallows in the air.
She was never in a hurry.   Once in

a little sprinkle she pulled off the road
so we saw slung over her back wheel like
saddlebags a cluster of plastic milk-
cartons she used riding around to tweak
her product.  A week later her huffer-
chef-boyfriend blew up their stove and him with it.
She didn’t die though her forehead melted

and a few fingers fighting it off and
her hair, part of one ear, top lip, you know,
lucky girl.  Row on row by the thousands
of tall stalks growing so straight they seem combed,
every twenty rows a seed sign to mark
varietals of the labs’ latest tests,
Agrigold 6267 Agrigold 6472 . . .

Peck baskets line the
market sidewalk packed
with local apples
the sheriff’s running

more folks in for
loitering so the streets

are quiet nights
so much depends

on what they
tell you for your

patronage or vote
so much more

as malathion
in the skin on what

they don’t—


Come, kill the Worm, that doth its kirnell eate
         And strike thy sparkes within my tinderbox.


An average of nine different fungicides and pesticides
discovered in bee pollen are tied to Colony Collapse Disorder—


Who would I show it      so unprocessed to—

Her letter, started years ago, leaving
Evelyn’s pie safe.  Waterford bells.

Grandmother’s thimbles her material.
How do you keep a thing you cannot touch?

Agrigold 6376.
Portrait of the boys above the table.

Denbeigh Acres Our Manors Have Manners.
Four names.  One crossed out.  Heirlooms edited.

Quilts towels Mother hand-stitched some linens
pillowcases    [           ]    FOPs tolerant.

Walk around and stick a yellow post-it
on the stuff you want, that’s what he told me.

Nutcracker Kitchen—cornbread from heaven.
14 China Birds.  Publix Cineplex.

International Harvester.  Archer
Daniels Midland, Tyson, ConAgra, Swift . . .

The world gives you itself in fragments / in splinters:


The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
    Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
    Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.


[ˈsplɪn tər]


a very small sharp piece of wood, glass, metal, etc., characteristically
long and thin

broken off from the main body;

(Military, Firearms, Gunnery, Ordnance & Artillery) a metal fragment, from the container of a shell, bomb, etc., thrown out during explosion;

splinter group, separate factions, sect; as of church, as of family;

obs. secured by split or splints—

to reduce or be reduced to sharp fragments;


break off in small shards—

Tell me, where does it hurt?  Everywhere else—

—broken shutters, musty box
springs, two ancient-at-eight-years-
old laser printers
and all manner of lawnmowers, power-tools, hand-

tools, shredded planters, to name only a bit
of the stuff crammed
in my barn:  as for me,
fewer loves, yet more

amassed . . . and there,
out behind the barn, the pile of water-logged lumber
where the new fawns this
spring were born, and farther yet, between

oak-leaf hydrangea and scrub trees
I’ve thinned out
for cosmetic sake, for fewer leaves to rake,
for more sun, thick grass (thus

the complexity of the whole
system diminished:
another positive feedback loop lost)—
there, beyond

the village’s big houses,
there, past nail parlors,
the franchise hardware shop, fast food shacks
and tattoo sheds,

beyond the strips, the burbs,
there, the sunken barns
where row on row
the fields spread, running out through the country,

the corn fields, the soy beans,
for ten miles, a hundred
more, for
a thousand miles of rich green stalks . . .

Removal of IV      pulse 16      pull—


Use the Poisson equation to describe
the probability distribution
of random mutations in a cell that
affect (“hit”) a particular gene (“target”):


Touch the eyelid closed with a damp finger—



Playing Clue        counting her bean jars pinging—


Rick’s oaks died because they were all alike—
chestnut blight, emerald ash bore, oak wilt,
Dutch elm disease, laminated root rot,
aspen canker, bacterial wetwood—


The amount of fossil fuel required to cremate the North American
crop of bodies each year has been estimated to equal what an
automobile would use in more than eighty round trips to the moon.


Good night moon good night ACE inhibitors

good night (to misquote myself) farmhouse, fields

good night noises everywhere good night comb


One raven :: rearranging the meat—


I will do it—

row on thousands of rows of yard-sale goods,
acres-to-let signs, falling-down silos.
The genetic modifications are
to enhance growth and durability.
The genetic modifications are
to enhance growth in corporate profits.
Here is your examination:  Choose one.

Kernel :: cell :: syllable       I am her son


Use the swab      sign here       She is my mother


So what’s the subject?       water for the gums—

Meanwhile the haze air           and that calling pair

of doves farther apart             than you might suppose

flutes made of grasses             lower than her breath

until a jay cuts through           that scold that nag

on a moment’s light                washing of breeze

yet all the trees blow              and simmer      above

which now many miles           across the village

the hot rods start up               guttural again

on a lit dust track                    to see in a few

minutes which one may          cross over where

they all set off once                together      not now—

Untie the knots
of your knucklesforgetting—

A short ride in             the van, then
the eight of us              there in the heat,

white shirtsleeves       sticking, the women’s
gloves off—                fanning our faces.

The workers                had set up
a big blue tent              to help us at grave-

side tolerate                 the sun, which
was brutal all               afternoon, as if

stationed above us,     though it
edged limb to               limb through

two huge covering       elms—the long
processional of            neighbors, friends,

the town’s elderly,      her beauty shop
familiars, her               club’s notables . . .

The world is full         of prayers
arrived at from           afterwards,

he said.  Look up        through the trees—
the leaves,                   curled there as

in self-control              or quietly hurting
or now open, flat-       palmed, many-

fine-veined,                 and whether from
heat or sadness,           waving—


Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you who you are!


I am looking      at trees          they may be one
                        of the things        I will miss     most from the earth

cover her         when she sleeps

Under English ivy
the Bishop’s weed

and its variegated
soft sage blue-

and-teal each plant
a labyrinthine mass

of roots so pulling
up of one mandates

the pulling now of
many, many-yards

long and under these
the pachysandra

folded splayed but
uncovered suddenly

to spring upright
the lacelike tendril ferns

the hard starved-for-sun
pale pathos of the

hostas the yard beneath
my yard I find

as though beneath the
mind another mind—


But trees do not dwell only in the present.  They remember the
past, and they anticipate the future. . . . How trees remember, I
do not know.  I have not been able to find out.


as under dogwoods fernsas under mounds

of leaves and rank halfbales of straw a mass

of hanging basketstrashed after our glad

seasons and shards ofterra cotta pots

soft shouldered fromweathering and under

all of this the reekingleaves and mulch become

rich loam againI wheel it all barrow

by barrow to feedthe acrid hardpan

where the hungryhollies the shallow-

rooted lilies of thevalley try to grow

I trowel it in      Ifeed the earth the earth—

Notes to “Scavenger Loop”

I have rummaged through many other writers’ works to compose this sequence.  Among those I directly quote or cite are Bernd Heinrich (Life Everlasting); Melanie Challenger (On Extinction); Frederick Seidel (“Green Absinthe”); Monsanto Corporation (online product information); Ron Sterk (“Crunch Time for Midwest Corn Growers”); Richard Conniff (“What Are Species Worth?”); Louise Gluck (“First Snow”); Edward Taylor (“Meditation 49”); Mario Santiago Papasquiro (“Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic”); Gerard Manley Hopkins (“The Starlight Night”); Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon); W. S. Merwin (“Elegy,” “Words from a Totem Animal,” “Trees”); Ernst Junger (On Pain); Brenda Hillman (“Light Galaxies Sleep for our Mother”); Colin Tudge (The Tree); and Nick Reding (Methland).  I have referred to sites provided by the American Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, and both Wikipedia and Facebook.

Parts of two sections (“A short ride in the van” and “Under English ivy”) first appeared separately, under different titles, in different forms, in The Virginia Quarterly Review and Literary Imagination.

David Baker‘s latest book of poetry, “Never-Ending Birds” (W. W. Norton), received the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize in 2011, and his “Show Me Your Environment: Essays on Poetry, Poets, and Poems” appeared this year (2014) in the Poets on Poetry series at the University of Michigan Press. “Scavenger Loop” is the title sequence to his new volume of poems, to appear in May 2015 from W. W. Norton. He serves as Poetry Editor of The Kenyon Review and teaches at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.