“Sentry” by Brendan Galvin

Thistle, you look like another
of evolution’s jokes, impossible
as a great blue heron seems
impossible, though you both
are brilliant survivors.

Still, mixed metaphor,
it looks like someone
hung you all over with
shaving brushes nobody
soft-handed could wield,

then loaded one of those
salad shooters they
used to hawk on TV
and fired green sickles
and scimitars at you,

until, sentry at my door,
you look like a gallowglass
loyal to no one but your own
stickle-backed containment.

I dubbed you Captain Barfoot,
though I know from long
acquaintance that a change
of air will turn you to a mentor

white and silken, proof
that the pilgrim in us all
must cede his spines
and hackers to endure.

“Sentry” first appeared in Shenandoah Volume 61, Number 1 and will be featured in his next collection, The Air’s Accomplices.  The poem begins as a pastoral meditation on the wonders of the natural world, describing the simple thistle and elegant heron as equally “impossible” and “brilliant survivors” through time and evolution.  However, Galvin directly addresses the thistle as “another of evolution’s jokes” and makes the thistle the focus of the piece.  After the first stanza, the poem uses humor to discuss the plant, describing its appearance in terms of human grooming tools and as if manipulated by swords and “salad shooters.”  Eventually the thistle will become “white and silken” when the seasons change, evidence of the “pilgrim” spirit in humanity and nature alike.  “Sentry'” cannot be dismissed as simply another nature poem.  Galvin’s message is that any living thing, whether people or plants, must adapt and change to last in nature.  He presents this theme of adaptability and its necessity in a humorous way, linking the human and natural worlds.

Brendan Galvin is the author of sixteen volumes of poems. His collection Habitat: New and Selected Poems 1965-2005 (LSU, 2006) was a finalist for the National Book Award. His crime novel, Wash-a-shores, is available on Amazon Kindle.  The Air’s Accomplices, a collection of new poems, is forthcoming from LSU Press.

The poem’s copyright remains with the author.

maddieMaddie Thorpe has twice served as a Shenandoah intern, once as Poem of the Week Editor and once as Social Networking Editor.  She is from Southern California and will take a degree in English from Washington and Lee in spring of 2014.