They go to the dam nightly, one after the other, and
                as they pass along its margins, each, upon his own motion,
                does such work as he chooses to perform.

                                —The American Beaver and His Works


         The pilfering started this spring,
   a few lengths whittled to a point,
white with sun, light as balsa,
   a walking stick bent right
         with a bite that holds your hand.
            We are getting to know the makers,
                  the neighbor girl and I,
            smoothing the splinterless wood as we talk.
         They mate for life, one family to a pond,
   eating what they work with—as if we dined on plaster,
or built our homes of bread—
   moving on once the place is consumed.
         Last fall when they drained the pond
            the lodge rose slowly
                  from the receding water,
            tempering, waiting it seemed
         for anything, for us.
   For now we’re driven, seeking
fence posts, beanpoles, cudgels longer
   and lighter, javelins! silver logs
         with which to line my garden, to edge
            the bed she has planted at her mother’s grave
                  to keep them from mowing it over,
            (exasperated) like they always do.
         One more load, once more across the field,
   past the row of hay bales that rims
the muck, along the path we’ve tamped
   between the fingers of shallow water,
         of mud, strong sucking, black,
            deeper than every spear we’ve fed it,
                  toward the dome which we mount again,
            looking back to where we started out,
         and down, at the thatching
   we test with springboard jumps.
It holds us: caulked earth,
   density of timbers interlaced
         unmoved by our prying. For us it’s simply
            that the beavers are elsewhere. Gradually
                  we unweave their strategies,
            today we opened their hollow to the light,
         knelt down, put our faces to the hole,
   took in the air they breathed,
stale, together,
   noted the pallet
         of cut grasses now brown
            beside the cavern’s shore of dust,
                  its own small tides sealed inside.
            It is very old in here,
         inside, where we lodge our griefs
   among our grievances,
those exacted by others,
   those exacted by ourselves,
         each upon her own motion, doing such work
            as she is able to perform,
                  moving through marsh and sinuous burrow,
            throwing ourselves on the beds
         we’ve made from what edges
   the still evaporating pond.
We are getting to know the makers,
   the neighbor girl and I.