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The Seagull

by Stanley Moss; introduced by James Crews


Published: 23 October 2012
Stanley Moss (b. 1925) has always written challenging poems that argue for the necessity of myth
in modern life, even while questioning the role of religion. Writing in American Poetry Review, the
poet and critic Christopher Buckley described how the strength of Mosss poems lies in the fact
that he can continue the argument and keep it immediate to our lives, where we are at the end of all
this time in relation to God, myth, skepticism, the unreviseable facts of death on an individual and
large scale. Indeed, Moss often approaches his subjects with a mix of authority and humility,
especially when confronting the issue of our alienation from the natural world.
Like most of Mosss poems, The Seagull unfolds slowly, beginning with what might seem mere
nostalgia, until the speaker describes how A pigeon in a blizzard fluttered / against a kitchen
window, / my first clear memory of terror. But was it his own terror that the bird might break
through the glass, or was it that of the pigeon? Moss gives us no clear answers, and captures the
openness with which we approach the world as children, unclouded by fixed ideas. In telling us how
he hung a grey and white stuffed / felt seagull from the cord of my window shade, the speaker
demonstrates our basic human need to make a senseless symbol of what we find in nature. In this
sense, the poem is a kind of elegy for a time of communion, when the speaker encountered an
animal, put himself in its place and felt what it felt.
The Seagull
When I was a child, before I knew the word
for a snowstorm, before I remember
a tree or a field,
I saw an endless grey slate afternoon coming,
I knew a bird singing in the sun
was the same as a dog barking in the dark.
A pigeon in a blizzard fluttered
against a kitchen window,
my first clear memory of terror,
I kept secret, my intimations
I kept secret.
This winter I hung a grey and white stuffed
felt seagull from the cord of my window
shade,
a reminder of good times by the sea,
of Chekhov and impossible love.
I took comfort from the gull, the graceful
shape
sometimes lifted a wing in the drafty room.
Once when I looked at the gull I saw

through the window a living seagull glide


toward me then disappear, what a rush of
life!
I remember its hereness,
while inside the room
the senseless symbol
little more than a bedroom slipper
dangled on a string.
Beyond argument, my oldest emotion
hangs like a gull in the distant sky.
Eyes behind bars of mud and salt
see some dark thing below,
my roof under the sea.
Only the sky is taken for granted.
In the quiet morning light,
terrors the only bird I know,
although birds have fed from my hand.
STANLEY MOSS (1982)