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IOWA CITY: EARLY APRIL (Excerpt)
by Robert Hass

This morning a cat—bright orange—pawing at the one patch of new grass in the sand-and tanbark-colored leaves.

And last night the sapphire of the raccoon’s eyes in the beam of the flashlight.
He was climbing a tree beside the house, trying to get onto the porch, I think, for a wad of oatmeal
Simmered in cider from the bottom of the pan we’d left out for the birds…

All this life going on about my life, or living a life about all this life going on,
Being a creature, whatever my drama of the moment, at the edge of the raccoon’s world—
He froze in my flashlight beam and looked down, no affect, just looked,
The ringtail curled and flared to make him look bigger and not to be messed with—
I was thinking he couldn’t know how charming his comic-book robber’s mask was to me,
That his experience of his being and mine of his and his of mine were things entirely apart,
Though there were between us, probably, energies of shrewd and respectful tact, based on curiosity and fear—
I knew about his talons whatever he knew about me—
And as for my experience of myself, it comes and goes, I’m not sure it’s any one thing, as my experience of these creatures is not,
And I know I am often too far from it or too near, glad to be rid of it which is why it was such a happiness,
The bright orange of the cat, and the first pool of green grass-leaves in early April, and the birdsong—that orange and that green not colors you’d set next to one another in the human scheme.

And the crows’ calls, even before you open your eyes, at sunup.

SOURCE: “Iowa City: Early April” appears in Robert Hass‘s collection Sun Under Wood: New Poems (HarperCollins, 1996), available at Amazon.com.

MORE: Read “Iowa City: Early April” in its entirety at poetryfoundation.org.

IMAGE: “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Kym Backland. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Hass’s first collection, Field Guide (1973), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award and established him as an important American poet. Hass confirmed his ability with Praise (1979), his second volume of poems, which won the William Carlos Williams Award. In 1984, Hass published Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry, a collection of previously published essays and reviews. The book was well received and won many awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award. His third collection of poetry, Human Wishes (1989), experimented with longer lines and prose paragraphs. 
Hass paid tribute to some of his non-Western mentors in The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (1994), translations of short works by the most famous masters of the short Japanese poem. In 1996, Hass published another collection of poems, Sun Under Wood, which won theNational Book Critics Circle Award. From 1995 to 1997, Hass served as U.S. Poet Laureate and poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Hass’s first book post-laureate, Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 (2007) won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In the mid-1990s, Hass co-founded the River of Words organization, which provides tools for teaching ecoliteracy to young students through multidisciplinary, interactive curricula. Hass was Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2001-2007. He teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and lives in California with his wife, the poet Brenda Hillman.

Photo of Robert Hass by Margaretta Mitchell