At first I thought the lilac tree an odd
display of vegetative selflessness:
the way its dried out old blooms, a mere brush
away from dust, stick around rotten, making
this year’s first inklings seem more sidereal.
Then I thought of being a brand new bud
and yawning up and out into the world
only to instantly confront exactly
what would become of me, and what
I would have to spend the rest of my life
trying to hide in so many short-lived flowers.
I reckon death also mothers mockery.
When I was eight I had a garter snake
my father’s friend jumped over his fence to catch
for me. I jarred it, fattened it on crickets,
and one day brought it onto the pool deck.
It cooked to death with its snout pressed against
a slice I cut in the mason jar lid,
its body spiraled against the sides of the glass,
all its jerky’d muscle about its spine
preserved it like a spring.
The lips of maples’
slimmer limbs, spineless and thawed, are snub-faced
as that snake, like lanky magicians’ sleeves
leaking pearl handkerchiefs, except what leaks
are a mixture of red, yellow, and green.
Belligerent, thick infants, Arachnes,
these leaves, all waxen and rapid to taunt
the flames they mimic and exceed. They are
too fine to know how badly what they flatter
wants to eat them; that the sun fattens them for fire,
or at least till they’re too bulky to hold
and drop and sail away or sink in the river.
The caterpillar that’s fallen and found
comfort, sidling and snug within a wrinkle
of my pants, will die for this. I will forget
she’s there. I will forget how she surprised
and made me smile; made me stop thinking
there was another spot to sit just a bit more
perfect than here where she happened to happen.
I’ll fiend for something, a book, a cigarette,
and demolish her, and the smudge of her guts
will become one unfortunate stain among many.
Have faith, the present does not permit stress,
when you get there you’ll see. Look for a place
where trees are trees, even the beeches yet aware
how to let go their ghostly leaves; even
the sumacs no longer skeletal fires,
just serrated leaves duskily steaming.
There will be so much life there; creatures, song.
The listless call of three birds triangulated in oaks
around the pond will not be listless, not anything.
The sunfish swimming up to a picked, flicked
toe nail and sucking it into its mouth
before spitting it out again for another
will reveal less about love than the young hawk
with a frog it’s pinned down and gored and grinds
into the ground, resting before it eats.
Hungry new leaves will not have come from anywhere.
All will have been and always be.
The present’s where you are as earth is.