Originally appeared in Issue Nos. 4, 5, and 8
Leaving the Plains
When they come for me,
I won't be here.
I'll be in the woods
Among the foxes and raccoons.
A tulip poplar
Will be my home.
I'll forage for pecans,
Hunt wild grapes,
Fish for bass and bream.
Deer will give me their lives.
Squirrels will bring me
Blackberries and walnuts.
Mint tea will sustain me
As I become the wind
That wraps the white oaks
In a balm of light.
Purified by my quest,
Green martyr for my faith,
I'll leave the woods
And make the world my home.
Not a hot air balloon, the kind
You ride into the great silent air,
The silence like a mountain pool,
So still you are not conscious
Of motion until you drop off
The falls and then the rush and roar
of water that spills you
Into the next smooth still pool
And leaves you breathless.
A regular balloon, regular as life,
That goes about its business
Like the seasons: spin and turn,
Rise and fall, it whirrs
A lifetime on one breath alone.
Outside the Brewer Art Gallery
A gardener tends
The flowers, pulls weeds,
Removes all the dead leaves.
For him the sunflowers
Must be the forest of his ancestors.
He honors them,
He cares for themsunflower seeds
Become a staple
Of his diet. While on his knees
He does not see
The bald man who's stopped
Among the sunflowers
To search for something he can't name
It has no name
Only a face he tries to paint
Petal by petal
Until petal, stalk and bloom
Are all one thing,
Just as a gardener contemplates
Not one plant alone
But all the plants of his design.
The bald man
Seeks a patron for his work
But finding none
Moves on for he has work to do
And now must do it.
Think how many wonderful things
There are to eat. Crabmeat au gratin.
Avocado with shrimp Garibaldi.
Turtle soup with sherry.
Gumbo, vichysoisse. Red beans and rice.
Trout amandine. Pompano en papillote.
Grilled soft-shell crabs.
Lobster Thermidor. Eggs Florentine.
Grilled sirloin and Chateaubriand.
Chicken with red wine and mushrooms.
Think how wonderful these things are,
Then think of that most wonderful
Thing of all, of how it's perfect,
Of how it shouldn't be cooked or changed
At all, except to squeeze some lemon
On it and to dip it into cocktail sauce,
Of how the first person to eat it must have
Been very hungry, very brave and very clever
To have opened it and you have
The delicate smooth perfect raw oyster.
Opening the Possible
I don't think I could stand in
A uniform to teach Homer or Berryman.
I'd wind up saluting the trees and bricks.
I'm not sure I could have taught
These Virginia Military Institute
Cadets anything when I remember
Those cadets who in 1864
Rose from their Euclid and Virgil,
Grabbed their muskets and powderhorns,
Joined the regulars and chased
The Union troops up the Shenandoah
Before they could waste the valley
And starve Lee into submission.
What, then, would I have taught these cadets?
Since I don't know how to parry
Missiles with laser beams,
I would have taught them
About the heart, how it never varies,
Whether it clothes itself in homespun
Or synthetics, how its aspirations fuel
Its deceits and propel its hopes,
Without, sometimes, access to either.
I would have taught them
While we may fight each other
Endlessly over real or imagined differences,
We fight only against ourselves.
Our imperfect knowledge defeats us.
I say this without sorrow or anger.
I say this to remind you and me
Our failings open
The possibility of virtue.
I would have taught them something
Like that but I suspect
Either I wouldn't have lasted a week
Or I would have stayed there forever