Summer. The wren in the young willow
Swivels with the speed of a missed tag
In a back yard game of chase. What I am
Chasing I’m glad to miss. What I hold
On to is the untouchable joy of losing
A race to my daughter. The air after
Rain. It’s late spring, early June, and
You cannot convince children
out of school that it’s not summer.
To a Japanese maple in mid-April
The heavy spring rain pulled the night
All the way to the ground. Like shattered glass
It lay through dawn in the hollow. When I rose
The sky was the blue of starting over
But not forgetting. The stars had crawled
Up your trunk and were asleep in their green study.
The broken darkness, unsteady in daylight, lurched
Gracefully, two black swallowtails
Like dizzy memories of other nights that fell
To earth and survived the day.
Author’s note: This Japanese maple, located in Afton, Virginia, provided the leaves for the leaf-print illustrations in my new book Wind Intervals.
Spring morning in a small city
The day is squeezed through the city’s buildings
Like water through a whale’s baleen
Leaving people harmlessly stuck to offices and stairways
Pressed against a wall in a hallway or sitting at a cafe
Table on the sidewalk. I, too small to be a meal for time
and commerce, slip through, discarded, on the quiet street
With my coffee. The sky is the blue of a baby’s iris.
A baby as big as a galaxy who is far from forming
Thoughts cohesive enough to create a world.
The only clouds in the sky slip together
Over the street into a momentary shape, a character
in a language not native to me but familiar.
I watch it pull itself apart. The city places orange cones
Around me to protect me while I stare and take a picture.
When I get home I discover it is the Chinese character
For “write.” I sit down with some paper and a blue pen
But every word drifts in a different direction as soon
As I write it and the page is as firm and white
As the sclera of a baby’s eye, of a galaxy whose
Unformed thoughts are rolling inward. The city blinks and
Before anyone can take a picture the day smashes its tail
on the surface of afternoon and is gone into the depths.
In the sweet air we want to take off our socks
And the song of the grass is softening
In the dark something moves slowly across space
Even the wind is taking its time
The silver maple’s a month early getting leaves
I feel that way too — for each heartbeat that flies from me
Tonight there’s a silent starling waiting in the walnut grove
Before a Spring Storm
Who am I in the porch’s silence
Before the storm? A song
Of any more sense
Than mindless wind chimes?
They say merely ‘something is happening’
Good or bad it is the same thing
Until something drowns them out
Knocks them down or finishes
Happening their silence means
Not that nothing is happening
Because nothing cannot happen
Nothing is not phenomenal any
Wind chime could tell you but rather
That whatever may be
Happening is not moving them
Nevertheless they have enough
To say right now as cloud shadows
Chase light back into the sun
And knowing nothing really goes
Backwards I’m listening for the storm
To sing a song that chases
Rain faster forward into flower
an eye still dreaming
behind the veil of sunrise
spring’s first peony
Stillness in a Low Time During the Rainiest Month of May in Half a Century
The cars approach and diminish but the road goes nowhere.
The storm stands across the street and says go.
Panic fans out.
The grass migrating without moving.
One blade bending to talk and the other
to listen … but to some other voice,
arriving from a distance. A voice with the tongue of a shadow
as if all this light traveling ninety million miles amounted
to a message smaller than a grassblade.
How small this poem must be in the field of minds!
I heard some people talking as they walked
across the wide green library yard, laughing
at a study suggesting that plants and trees
communicate. One bent his head toward the other,
whose face, angled away from the sun,
was obscured in the late afternoon shadows.