What has kept the world safe…[has]been memory.
But we forget, don’t we?
Not what happened, but the thickness of it.
The rough edges of the table
on the café terrace, moisture
beading on your glass. The way the woman
who would become your wife
kept pushing her hair off her forehead.
The sound of a cicada spinning to its death on the sidewalk,
a papery sound, like someone thumbing through a book.
Think of the man who returns
a year after the five-day war
in which his house was burned.
What’s left of it
still stands on the corner, so he can search
among the black and crumbled stones,
the splintered table legs, for the photo
he didn’t expect to find—
photo of a woman, her hair swept back
in a style no one wears anymore. He’d forgotten
that she used to wear her hair that way,
as he’s forgotten the stretched feel of his skin
in the heat of the flames he watched from across the street,
though he’d tell you that’s the one thing
he would remember forever.
There comes a warning like a spy
A shorter breath of Day
A stealing that is not a stealth
And Summers are away—
It’s ripe, the melon
by our sink. Yellow,
bee-bitten, soft, it perfumes
the house too sweetly.
At five I wake, the air
mournful in its quiet.
My wife’s eyes swim calmly
under their lids, her mouth and jaw
What is happening in the silence
of this house? Curtains
hang heavily from their rods.
Ficus leaves tremble
at my footsteps. Yet
the colors outside are perfect–
orange geranium, blue lobelia.
I wander from room to room
like a man in a museum:
wife, children, books, flowers,
melon. Such still air. Soon
the mid-morning breeze will float in
like tepid water, then hot.
How do I start this day,
I who am unsure
of how my life has happened
or how to proceed
amid this warm and steady sweetness?
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.
Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare
searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching gravel roads,
and felt a moment of pure anger, aspen gold.
I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.
And I have traveled along the contours
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool,
I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.
Not that anyone would
notice it at first.
I have taken to marveling
at the trees in our park.
One thing I can tell you:
they are beautiful
and they know it.
They are also tired,
hundreds of years
stuck in one spot—
When I am under them,
they feel my gaze,
watch me wave my foolish
hand, and envy the joy
of being a moving target.
Loungers on the benches
begin to notice.
One to another,
“Well, you see all kinds…”
Most of them sit looking
down at nothing as if there
was truly nothing else to
look at until there is
that woman waving up
to the branching boughs
of these old trees. Raise your
heads, pals, look high,
you may see more than
you ever thought possible,
up where something might
be waving back, to tell her
she has seen the marvelous.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.