Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, March 8, 2021

Forever and Ever, Amen by George Miksch Sutton


Photo by George Paul, taken in 1972 in Norman, Oklahoma. Photo from Wikipedia; permission for use from Creative Commons.

. . . Forever And Ever, Amen 

by George Miksch Sutton

A very little time shall pass --- 
A white-crowned sparrow’s song or two, a rustle in the grass ---- 
Ere I shall die: ere that which now is grief and sense of loss 
And emptiness unbearable shall vanish 
As curved reflections vanish with the shattering of a glass. 

By the wind I shall be scattered 
Up and down the land, 
By strong waves strewn along the farthest shore; 
No part of the dear world shall I not reach and, reaching, understand, 
No thing that I have loved shall I not love the more. 

No leaf of sedge nor cattail blade shall push 
Up from the dark mud toward the open sky 
But I shall be there, in the tender tip, 
Experiencing the steady surge of growing. 

No drop of water shall move upward, cell by cell, 
No sunlight fall on any opening fern, 
No breeze send waves across the yellowing grain, 
But I shall be there, intimately learning 
All that all things know and, knowing all, discerning 
The full significance of suffering and pain. 

No bird of passage shall fly north or south 
Breasting the stiff wind or pushing through the fog 
But I shall be there, feeling the deep urge 
That drives it otherwhere at summer’s ending, 
And otherwhere once more with spring’s return; 
Ever so thoroughly I shall learn 
The signs a bird must travel by, 
The many ways in which a bird can die. 

Knowing the fierce drive of hunger, 
Day after day, season after season, brown in summer, white in winter, 
With the slender weasel I shall hunt, and with the rabbit die --- 
I at the place where the sharp white teeth 
Pierce the skin and the tearing hurts, 
I, too, shivering while the hot blood spurts. 

No vainly croaking, vainly struggling frog shall feel 
The water snake’s inexorable jaws 
Moving over and round it, slowly engulfing it 
But I shall be there struggling too, and crying 
An anguished, futile protest against dying. 

With the snake too I shall die: 
Clutched by sharp talons, borne swiftly upward from the shallow creek, 
I shall look down bewildered and surprised 
By this new aspect of a familiar place, 
Writhing, twisting, striking at the claws which hold me fast 
I shall feel the hooked beak closing on my neck at last. 

With the hawk, too, I shall die: 
I shall feel the hot sting of shot, the loss of power, the sudden collapse, 
The falling downward through unsupporting space, 
The last swift rush of air past my face.  
No creature the world over shall experience love, 
Drying its wings impatiently while clinging to the old cocoon, 
Leaping the swollen waterfall, yapping to the desert moon, 
Looping the loop above some quaking bog, 
Pounding out drum-music from some rotting log, 
But I shall be there in each sound and move --- 
Now with the victor, now with the vanquished, 
Now in the parted mouth, now in the feet, 
Now in the lifted nose, now in the bloodstream, 
Now in the pounding heart’s accelerated beat --- 
Experiencing the tender, quiet joy of mating, 
And blinding ecstasy of procreating. 

A thousand thousand times I shall suffer pain, 
And that will be a mere beginning. 
A thousand thousand times I shall die, 
Yet never finally, never irrevocably, 
Always with enough left of life to start again: to be born, 
To grow, give battle, win, lose, laugh, cry, sing, and mourn, 
To love, hate, admire, and despise, 
Never quite losing the feeling of surprise 
That it is good to live and die; 
Learning to forget the word “finally,” 
Learning to unlearn the word “ultimately,” 
Learning, the long stretch of eternity having just begun, 
That joy, gladness, grief, and suffering are one. 


This poem was originally published in an out-of-print book by Fulcrum Press, and reproduced in Audubon (September, 1985, pp. 86-87). Please do not excerpt this poem; all reproductions should include the entire work and be credited to George Miksch Sutton.