The San Antonio Oxbow is the author’s own little piece of Eden. Thanks to invasive trees and habitat loss, though, a telltale species like the Rio Grande silvery minnow is nearly extinct. Burbank wields the oxbow as a potent symbol of “the ever-shrinking, ever-disappearing world we call Nature”; it also provides a rich metaphorical framework for his Zen-like poems. The book’s core section is “Forty Meditations,” in which short, untitled poems alternate with color photographs. The photos find unusual angles—looking up at birds or grasses—or zoom in for extreme close-ups of shadows, leaves, and fungi. A few are so blurred as to resemble abstract paintings, compensating for a few less original images, like a red rose or Canada geese standing on one leg. The accompanying free verse poems, which often provide commentary on the photos (or vice versa), are haikulike in their brevity and rhythm: “Tonight a winter / moon over the bosque / for once the raccoons / are silent” runs one in its entirety. The connections between verses and images are sometimes less than obvious, however, while the lack of punctuation can introduce mild confusion, as in “Don’t cling / let go say / the ones who / don’t know / you can’t cling / to not clinging.” Conversely, “Whose Skin Is River Skin” is a beautifully coherent run-on sentence listing the oxbow’s species richness, with the affectionate refrain “you are / mine.” There are only eight pages of prose—a shame since it’s almost more poetic than the verse—observing, for example, “the soft muffled crackling of the olive-gray many-lined skink” or “the incessant chafing rasp of crows.” An epilogue tells the strange-but-true fable of madman Clayton Senn, who vowed to conquer the river but lost both legs to it instead. With passionate artistry, Burbank delivers his urgent warning: “bend the river to our will and…we rue the consequences.”
A creative tribute to a fragile ecosystem.