Leveler Poetry Journal
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Washed by the sinking sun, lightning bugs hang in the warm wind.

The nighthawk’s flight buckles in the humid gusts.

The black cat rolls its neck on the close-cut grass.

All the forsaken prairie pleads catch me! leave me! scratch me!

Never, never, never.

R. D. Parker

levelheaded: Nightfall

R.D. Parker’s “Nightfall” is constructed similarly to James Wright’s oft’ anthologized poem, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffey’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.”  Both poems employ colloquial, economical language to present a series of natural images that eventually lead to an epiphany.

The poems are most markedly different in Parker’s near omission of first-person singular pronouns. Sure, the word “me” appears three times in line four, but each time its most obvious antecedent is not the speaker. Instead, as evidenced by the verbs in line four, the word “me” in each respective instance refers to the “lightning bugs,” “nighthawk” and “black cat” of the previous three lines.

Okay, you might be thinking, so what? Well, based on the last line, it seems like it’s important to Parker to leave nature alone. Whereas James Wright places his speaker directly in the scene (his first line: “Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly”), in Parker’s poem the bugs and birds and cats would be there even if it weren’t filtered through a singular human experience.

Of course, the poem has a basis in human observation. For all we say about the speaker’s absence, the poem is spoken by someone. As humans, it’s natural for us to inject human meanings into the fourth line. When we do so, the verbs prove complicated. If we think of human relationships, to be caught can have both negative and positive connotations—one might desire companionship (What a catch!), but fear captivity.  Should one enter a relationship with another, someone might “leave.” And the verb “scratch” is sweet in the context of kitties, sexual in the context of sex, and violent in the context of violence.

Perhaps the speaker simply “Never, never, never” wants to disturb nature. While the obvious reason for this is because humans can disrupt or destroy nature, Parker suggests that there are even more risks—deeply personal risks—when we put ourselves into the action.

– The Editors