The New Compass: A Critical Review



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Timothy Steele



Jardin des Tuileries


The boy stood weeping in dismay,

Duffle-coated against the cold,

Watching his sailboat bob away

On a pool vast and granite-bowled.


No aid was asked, but seeing him,

I rolled my trousers to my knees

And waded from the basin’s rim

To where the boat had sought the breeze


And, like a giant, lifted her

Up by the mast and centerboard.

Still sniffling, with “Merci, monsieur,”

The boy walked off, his loss restored.


This happened thirty years ago.

The trees were pollarded and bare,

The benches empty, and light snow

Fell to the flowerless parterre.


For several weeks, I’d launched campaigns

To every tourist sight I could.

Most I’ve forgotten.  What remains

Is how the boy drew up his hood,


Cradling his boat in winter light,

While I sat down and bowed to muse

Upon the gravel and draw tight

And tie the laces of my shoes.



Sepulveda Basin Mallards


They paddle through expanding

And overlapping wakes.

One glides in, cleared for landing,

And, with his breast for brakes,

Skids to a cushy halt,

Then makes a smooth turn shoreward.

Another, in the mood

To try a somersault

Or dabble for some food,

Pitches abruptly forward,


Tail straight up from the water.

Others appear to be

Content merely to potter

About in buoyancy.

Still others extract oil

From their rump glands to preen.

(Bills digging here and there,

Their lithe necks coil, uncoil,

As they check out, repair

And keep their feathers clean.)


Just a mile off, two freeways

Cross like scissors’ shears;

Likewise, flyways and seaways

Have narrowed with the years.

Still, in this watershed’s

Low marshes, the ducks range

With cormorants and coots,

With grebes and buffleheads,

At home in old pursuits

And salutary change.


There, willow-overhung,

A mother leads the newer

Flotilla of her young,

Who, swivel-bonded to her

Mood (and direction) swings,

Veer neatly left and right.

On water-spanking feet,

A scaup sprints and flaps wings

And wills itself to meet

The requisites for flight.


Who wouldn’t, though the day

Decline, be slow to leave

This place where egrets may

Remain on the qui vive,

Wading deliberately

Through chilly water plants?

Marsh wrens swoop after midges,

And the sharp eye can see

How fallen reeds are bridges

For hurrying-homeward ants


That cross a rivulet

Emptying in the pond.

Soon, darkness; but as yet

Birds call and, called, respond.

And mallards drift serenely

On the fresh inland tide—

Speculum feathers flashing,

Males lifting their heads greenly,

Some, as they’re swimming, splashing

Their bills from side to side.



Freudian Analysis


A luxury sedan sways round the curve,

Scattering roller-blading hockey players.

The driver’s wearing sunglasses, though night

Is gathering; his Great Dane, riding shotgun,

Leans from the window and barks furiously

At a bewildered terrier on the sidewalk.

Libidinous inanity!  Woof!  Woof!

I’ve got a Lexus and you’ve got a leash!

Driver and dog, quite clearly, haven’t learned

That anybody can achieve an ego:

The real trick is resolving to transcend it.

Innocent ids, the boys regroup; one cuts

A circle sharply, swings his stick, and rifles

The plastic ball that serves as puck between

The pair of soda cans that serve as goal posts.

The superego’s representatives,

Six ravens mob the disappearing car

Before they peel off, cawing, to the trees

While the small terrier—hair in his eyes,

His toenails clicking pavement—trots away,

Leading his owner homeward from their ramble.






Steele, Timothy. “Poems.” The New Compass: A Critical Review 2 (December 2003)  <>