1126: Not So Much an End as an Entangling by Linda Gregerson

20240527 Slowdown

1126: Not So Much an End as an Entangling by Linda Gregerson


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Who among us has not been awed looking up at a large flock of birds migrating in a V? Or watched in wonder at a murmuration of starlings twisting into swirling shapes at dusk? Such sights guarantee my open-mouthed amazement. The birds seem to fly based on some divine knowing. They point to mysteries beyond my comprehension. In ancient times, I think I’d have been a priest who ventured to understand and make predictions based on the behavior of birds.

The vision of birds stilled in motion at the center of Tom Uttech’s paintings invite similar speculations. Today’s poem reads an exodus of earth’s species as an ominous commentary, I surmise, on the decimation of the environment.

Tom Uttech. Mamakadendagwad, 2016. Oil on canvas. 91 1/2 x 103 1/2 inches, including artist's painted frame. Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase made possible by the American Art Forum, 2017.3 © Tom Uttech, courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York.

Not So Much an End as an Entangling
by Linda Gregerson

(Tom Uttech, oil on linen, 2016)


And then the animals began to flee
                           from right 
          to left across the surface of the visual

plane, the birds in great number, owl
                           and osprey,
          red-necked grebe,

the nuthatch, the nighthawk, the warbler in
          kinds. And that’s when we began to 

understand because it wasn’t normal, wasn’t
                           what you 
          expect to find, the eaters and the likely-

to-be-eaten in a single frame. Despised 
                           the ground, 
          our poet says, intelligent of seasons. And

the sixth day too, when creatures of the earth
                           began to walk
          the earth, proposes a thought-scape of

                           But that was
          then and in the painting it is more

like now, desiccated needles on a desiccated
                           branch. If creation-
          with-pinions appears to fly below as well as

in the sky, that’s simply a trick of vantage point,
                           the better
          to accommodate the interlocking logic

of the whole, as when
          is broken into pieces we construe as plot.

So timber wolf and white-tailed deer and indigo
                           bunting below
          which is to say between, perspective

having turned the three dimensions into two,
                           all of them
          fleeing, right to left, as from (since they, who

are intelligent of seasons, are the first to know) from
          disaster, which has made the lesser enmities


When I was a child it was the numbers I couldn’t 
                           get out of
          my head, so many billions, so little time

to make it stop. A single patch of ground, say, just 
                           from here
          to the wall: how many of us, if we took turns

lying down, could fit? I didn’t think water or waste
                           or work,
          I just thought how many standing and how

many minutes the others would get to rest. Only later
          the obvious answer occur to me: I won’t 

be here, and then the panic would stop. But have


I now seen death he wondered and the angel said,
                           you’ve scarcely
          seen its shadow, look: the winged ones, furred

ones fleeing from right to left, as from the 
                           names that you
          in all your fond first powers bestowed.

There was water in the reed beds (think of it,
                           water still), the sun
          still rose, the snail-foot exuded

its mucus. And then the angel pulled, just slightly,
                           on one of the threads 
          composing the linen

the painter had tacked to his stretcher. What is it
                           you love
          that has not been ruined because of you.

"Not So Much an End as an Entangling'' by Linda Gregerson. Used by permission of the poet.