Rock Garden in the Back Yard with a Ghost Tree and an Evergreen
On sun-drenched slats of wood, the muddled air casts
blue shade, prehistoric smells, leaves petrified in shadow.
It’s all invisible and felt. I wonder if this back yard
landscape can cut away my clacking feelings of everything
corrupted in myself: the damned uncertainties, the fine print,
high-tide low-tide moods, the rut of muscles seizing up.
And then the shined oak bends below my feet as I descend
unstable stairs creaking. I stride fortissimo in joy
forth and back, into sun-erasing shadows
in my bright square yard. On a small table by a green chair
which for its angle and tilt seems designed for those devoted to light
is a soft round nest of twisted kindling and two white fur tufts
that fell in our yard, though the birds were gone,
in this way an artifact, historic and true, a downbeat
heartbreaking me as usual. I memorialize the unknown bird
and her birth-blue eggs fallen upon by storm, squirrel, cat.
The stormcloud god is always overhead with his bolts.
No sound is quiet here during the insect-invading sun-boiled rout.
Today it is a cold day warmed by a triangle of sun
angling down like an annunciation; I listen to the racket of sparrows,
cardinals, and blue jays just beyond the fence in a green-dark evergreen.
Its leaves rattle and toss the blood-red berry bombs
on woodgrain slats. In the heart of the tree, where four branches
uphold a broad blue sky, a child, who has since moved out, yelled
happily on the square platform his father built. The mother came out once,
looking impatient, and said don’t trim the branches, just tell me
and I’ll do it, but I never saw her again and the father and child also
disappeared. We cut off several branches this spring, tired of the splatter
and stink of those bright berries, the slime slippery below our feet.
Each week, we shaved off more branches, white flesh screaming O
what have you done with my arm, only the worst kind of woman
scuttles about so, Medusa locks jangling, and causes havoc.
You have stolen my beauty for a grassless yard that you presume to think,
fenced off, is not spacious enough, though it is sky-flooded.
We wanted a yard unmarred by the blood of everywhere
else. My son, growing into realities, clipped off ever-larger branches.
One day out back, a tiny leaf pops up in grand anticipation of spring.
I look up from my reading, dazed at how life is reincarnated
so easily in a patch of soil. I stare at my book and wonder why
I revel in stories of slaughter, and worry that ordinary
blood-reviving carnage feels profound: spear-skewered lungs,
limbs cut off and heads rolling about in Homer’s descending
hexameter heart; I cower like Hector before Aías,
Diomedes before Hector, Hector before Achilles, Achilles
before his anger and the organizing shape of honor he is destined for
(so much blood spilled, and buried, in the life-giving earth).
I know my marauding mind is too easy about slicing limbs off
to rid my yard of shade and the disarray of splatterberries
staining my yard, so ordinary there is nothing to it—
woodgrain and masonry, a stump from a tree with a trajectory
like a beanstalk into heaven. It died, years back, of some disease.
All day, the chainsaw buzzed. The tree came down in puzzle pieces.
Eight summers have come and gone now with my stump-life,
my still life, my spirit-tree, and oxygen leaves on my neighbor’s tree.
Sideline the old myths that say time on Earth is just a plot
you are expected to do something with; fixed, akimbo—
places imbued with mourning and break-the-fast, with fast love
but who is counting? I take out the axe.
It is time to fell the stump of this dead tree blossoming
spores and fungi as if saying what happens was never up to me.
I lift the axe high above my head. My son sees how a body
yields to murder and clears out rot in the same motion.
It is a matter of syntax and exchange; the verbs feel conditional
before they harden into nouns. To chop, to disarray, to make
a new garden. How quick the remains revert to soil.
How quick the hand rake, shovel, and broom come out,
come out. I labor in my tinpot yard, digging with vengeance.
Scabrous creatures and worms dive deeper, into underground spaces.
We steal varieties of rocks from the park up the hill for our small yard
inside a yard. In the mineral soil of my old ghost tree, three small plants settle.
At least until the Iliad is over. I linger in the lines, barely turning pages to slow what’s coming: Achilles dies after the book is over, he meets the fate he chooses; armor cannot even shield a half- god warrior. I cannot shield you in my caring. Stay until the snow has melted in the mountains where you live. “I know my ashes and bones will go into the earth and I feel fabulous.” How can it be that anyone can yield so happily? Truer expanses I may not see, mired in expansive truths philosophers, deciding what the world is not, color into centuries defined by kings, geometry, chiaroscuro, constellations, countryside. Which brings me to the mountains where you live: light, uplift, love—; All remains in grays for me; you rapture into colors unseen on this planet. When is time you’re switching into? How do you keep switching keys for me in the piano I keep wanting? I will buy it when you’re hiking Jupiter with your ski poles and angelic wings to buoy your steps. I memorize your face, consumed with whitening illness. I reveal the first time I took ecstasy was in your house on a clear cold day. The snow was a meter fallen, enough to tromp through in a daze, hours elated by a rambling brook, so endless was snowstorm and love it seemed to me then. You have been such a blessing in my life, you said, and I practically yelled You are a blessing I write through tears, I write, you are beautiful inside you tell me when your youngest son brought me home to you that sometimes you just know. Because of you I know how a woman can be. I know there is a sparrow fluttering inside the free and vicious eagle of me. The shield Hephaestus forges for Achilles promises balance (season, dance, harvest, cosmos) even in war; a new season arrives on the heels of death, on the heel of Achilles when the Iliad is over. You are upbeat, feeling lucky that long life has been so full of love. Patroclus is dead. Achilles avenges his love in fields of blood; he won’t stop grieving. Will this be me as well? My soul in two. Desperate Priam begs for the body of his son and only then Achilles weeps. He returns Hector to his father. He is becoming more human by which he is dying of anger, choosing unfading glory over old age. You have gotten the better of the bargain, at eighty-eight. Turn the page, I tell myself, and turn it, crying. The story of Achilles is a tale of rage inside the battle to live. Deaths pile up. Soon, you’ll greet your lover, who died last year. I inch through sentences, pretending time rewinds, but it does not. There is a kind of peace. Each warrior rests his head upon the soil differently, as if saying we are unlike in how we die but equal at the end.
Tell wrong tales to disappearing ears
devoted to stories sweeter and more contemporary,
shine with shocked tears,
your inconsolable verses in knob-knuckled fists.
Return to primeval sentences carved in old books
sewn to spines so strong they cannot say their words.
Care for what lingers: scents of time.
What riches of ancient oaks are ravaged,
Art Deco-decorated, here; unperturbed, we howl
through teeth what we have found is only
what we, expecting divinity to sparkle fast
and on time, surreptitiously believe.
Nothing except the treason of years lasts;
the end will arrive with diamonds
that cut you clear in half.
Listen for laughter blood-boiling on the stove,
ask your soul what is it you have apprehended
and was it worth it? Melodious pages
flutter down to sing us tales of when they were trees
out of breath, waltzing in breezes.
In bodies sprung forward
doing and undoing heavenly dances;
is footwork the labor of elegance encircling itself
or a dream of walking free
under orange-awe sun, lit from within
and refracted from whatever intentions it began with?
We are skeletons of time and spent love,
we want that brief momentous back flip,
Rilke said, noting the acrobats, to muscle against gravities of age
and, flying there, to color our blank faces.
We hedge for fate. If it were a transmutation of blood or gods
the disappearing act would lift us in love with listening
and give our stories perfect pitch; we would be all ears.