Euonymus Alatus

Outside my window, the bushes have turned, redder
than any fire, and the sky is the same blue Giotto
used for Mary’s robes. My mother says, if she still
had a house, she’d plant one or two of these bushes,
and I love how she’s still thinking about gardening,
as if she were in the middle of the story, even though
we both know, she’s at the end, the last few pages. Down
in the meadow, the goldenrod’s gone from cadmium
yellow to a feathery beige, the ghost of itself. Mother,
too, fades away, skin thin as the tissue stuffed
up her sleeve. The scars on her stomach
itch and burn, but inside, she’s still the girl
who loved to turn cartwheels, the woman
whose best days were on fairways and putting greens.
On television, we watch California go up in smoke,
flames leapfrogging ridge to ridge. Here, these leaves
release a shower of scarlet feathers, as everything starts
to let go. Oh, how this world burns and burns us,
yet we are not consumed.


There is nothing new here.
Rain falls on closed peonies.
There is nothing new.

Yesterday my son brought me honeysuckle
from the garden.
Today his hair smells of citrus.

But that’s all,
nothing more,
not so much as a grain of salt on the tongue,
only rain falling on peonies
that are closed.

The ground of being

The artist’s eye caught the bent iron grating intended to separate
the living from the dead, the bars pulled apart as though a wandering

had recovered his human form, escaped a deadened community. The
lens focused the rows of tampered vaults, doors nearly askew, lines

of dead diminishing to infinity. Framed by pillars past, the photo pressed
      into time
absence of brass bands blowing funereal dirges, colorful umbrellas

to the beat, second-liners celebrating release. I thought of reading old
      Creole stories
of George Washington Cable and Grace King, the scourge of yellow

the cycle of death and renewal acted out in another century. Or my own
and renewal in the sixties, the damp breeze blowing across the iron bed

where I lay reading Paul Tillich one Saturday afternoon. His text called
into question all that Pleasant Bethel Baptist Church had taught me,

I had never allowed to take root, Noah’s flood, the sacrificial testing of
Esther’s dubious path to the throne. Driving past Lafayette Cemetery

to seminary classes, I pondered the rationale for burying the dead
above the ground, the belief that levees would hold, the cockeyed

that the mystical combination of voodoo and faith would somehow
render the Big Easy indomitable. Katrina changed all that,

but New Orleans has always shunted bones to the rear, reopened
for the newly dead, believed in resurrection.

Was blind, but now I see

You have your sight, and yet you cannot see.
        —Tiresias, Oedipus Rex

Driving into the city to teach
in gray-green late summer,
I see one flaming red maple
and think of Oedipus
standing dangerously above the hoi polloi.

But it is Moses’ tree,
a call story on a highway hillside.
I want to stop traffic,
shout, “Take off your shoes, people!”

For the world is on fire
with a beauty so fragile that,
like the thread of ash
after the stick of incense burns,
one breath can topple it.

A parable of marriage

Disregarding the heat, we settled down to it:
clearing a path through the elmwood and oak.
It’s slow going—an all-day job. Stones fat

as watermelons. Quick, gray blades of limestone
layered into the ground a foot or more.
We rooted them out with crowbars, a shovel,

or dug them free by hand, then tossed
the rocks into a wheelbarrow. Tomorrow,
they’ll be put to use: load by load we’ll haul them

up the hill for a border, follow
our new trail straight on to the high west
pasture. Where late in the day sun breaks

against shade, burns whitest fronting the treeline
of the woods—light upon shadow—we
stopped work for the night. Passing you

the last drink of water from the canteen,
I nodded toward home, and we traced the way
back down in silence, the only sounds

a locust, the snap of twigs, our workboots
scraping over rock shards and dust.
We kept close to ourselves, listening.