The Principles of Concealment

The Principles of Concealment

If you're caught in the open
   In an exposed position, alone,
      Disarmed, and certain you may be
Attacked at any moment, you should settle quickly
   All your differences with whatever lies
      Around you, forcing yourself to agree
With rocks and bushes, trees and wild grass,
   Horses, cows, or sheep, even debris
      To find out what you have in common. You no longer
Want to seem what you are, but something
   Harmless and familiar: in a landscape
     Given to greenness and the cold pastels
Of stubble and field stone,
   Protective coloration may be too much
      To hope for, beyond your powers
Like the beatitudes of browsing
   And those conspicuously alarming colors
      That declare you're poisonous
Or taste terrible - all may be doomed
   To fail with an enemy equipped to kill
      From a distance. Your shape betrays you,
And you should try to break it
   With disruptive patterns: if an enemy sees you,
      Not as a whole, but as a head distinct
From a torso, as legs or arms
   By themselves - he may ignore you
      And let you have your moment
In the sun as an abstraction gone
   To pieces, as a surface mottled and dappled
      Ambiguously by intercepted light
Like a man cancelled. But all these efforts
   Will come to nothing if you move: one gesture
      May catch all eyes. If you stand
Still then, or stay seated
   If you're sitting down, or go on lying
      Down if you're lying, an easy solution
May occur to you, cheek to cheek
   With the hard facts of inorganic life:
      That you have no enemy,
That no one is hunting you,
   That all your precautions were a waste
      Of attention better given to more rewarding
Evasions and pursuits. If so,
   And you take your place again
      As a distinct departure
From your foreground and background,
  You should know it's possible
      For you to feel, after all,
At the first step, at the first crack
   Out of the box, that lethal impact,
      That private personal blow marking your loss
Of the light of day, the companionship
   Of the night, and the creature comforts of home
      As you become a member
Of that other civilization spreading itself
   Around you, ready and able and still
     Called the natural world.

'Principles of Concealment' from The House of Song: poems (University of illinois Press, 2002) copyright© 2002 by David Wagoner, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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