I was a gift to mother years ago,
seventy-four, to be exact, and she
turned thirty-five the day that I was born.
We keep close track and number years because
we are the briefest segment, nano tick
within the cosmic clock, a cry, a whisper,
joy that is composite with our loss,
and both affirm we are the slightest voice,
the merest flicker in the womb of dark
and universal silence—but that’s enough.
It is enough to feel the soil beneath my feet,
to breathe the air, the cleansing warmth of sun
and rain, all elements of faith and hope
and love that gather momentarily
within these sacred cells and sinews born
a child on this specific day at that
appointed hour within this given room
to these embracing arms and tender hands.
O mythic tree that pried earth-heaven apart,
I tend your garden world with grateful heart.
I love my leaves, the maple said,
so green into October.
They start to yellow from the top
but keep into November.
After others slough their vibrant hues
and heaven shows through their limbs,
I’ll shed my earthly finery
the day it suits my whim.
Defiance may be futile but
it courses roots to crown;
resistance yields reluctantly
but knows leaves must come down.
I don’t approve, I’m not resigned,
so bud again I will.
When winter’s done and rivers run
I’ll stand green on the hill.
Eons ago unruly, ruined
angels shattered to a million
million pieces blown on winds
like Sybil’s leaves across the cosmos
‘til random coveys settled on
the earth as birds with drab breast, wings
and beak that flutter-flocked this home,
faint flurry-squalls upon the fallen
world just suited to our minion,
mottled feather-covered bones.
Who cares for heavenly lusters lost,
for holy haloes luminous,
for lucent wings diaphanous
or harmonies mellifluous.
These can’t compare to green-brown grass,
the gritty soil, the chattery chirps,
the buoyant air and breeze that lifts
us up to any where we please
to fly or land to exercise
our clear-eyed curiosities
as we parse each square mil and inch
of this back yard within this fence.
Call us what you will, we’re lovers
flocking to a faith in blades
of grass and all that underlies
the universe of fallen leaves
we overturn with beak and claws:
the obvious, the agonies,
the lies, the truths, the hidden signs,
the joys infusing every morning’s
sun that brims the eastern trees
to flood this world again with grace.
We may have lost our heavenly voices,
relinquished vast ethereal spaces,
still, we’re fierce empiricists
of love and light that bloom from seeds
we find in gutters, fields and streets.
Bedraggled though we be we bless
the earth with our quicksilver eyes,
our wit, our skittish wariness
of dogma and the thought police.
We have abandoned grandiose
preferring squabbles in the vines
or trees about particulars
of yards, best roosting bush and feeders
down the block, in village parks,
which is to say, whatever is,
is just enough. We’ll not be ciphers
in gods’ grand schemes and mysteries.
We’re profane and sacred messengers
of mundane things and marvelous,
those halo-flames and rippling songs
that for a moment rise as cries
and longings from the phantom depths
we scarce remember that our hearts
contain, sequestered sorrows fused
with joys that whisper from the close
and holy darkness of our lives.
This paper’s just a thin hourglass
and words just grains of sand,
so every one penned on the page
counts towards my mortal span.
Perhaps the house of death is where
I’d finally feel at home,
a place where I could settle down
this restless soul of mine.
Oh winsome thought, I banish you,
you whim of entropy,
despite your daily constancy,
I have much more to be.
In due time I may welcome you,
but meanwhile let’s be clear,
I’ll sow these faithful pages with
my words, thoughts, friends so dear.
Week by week the orchid buds have fanned
their lavender like butterflies that spread
their wings, a flight of beauty’s prophets perched
in a row along the green and woody spike
that bursts from five broad leaves that lap the air
with long green tongues thirsting for the light.
They’re seven blooms in all with five buds yet
unfurled to grace the arcing stem, a dozen
witnesses to life within this room
and in the street, the park and world beyond.
Each velvet petal’s dainty crystals sparkle
in the morning sun and draw us toward
the focal orifice framed by two petals,
cupped like hands on either side, the third,
a lip below tipped by two curling spurs,
a kind of mouth that opens wide a throat,
a deep and sheltered hollow little world,
a secret room festooned with finely striped
and stippled walls, inviting floral womb
within each bloom that curves about a golden
dappeled tiny lepidoptra tongue’s
unflinching, clear-eyed reassuring song:
“I am a kind of beauty, so admire.
I’m measured, colorful and uniform,
symmetrical, so tranquil, fresh and firm ,
all in a row like birds upon a wire
or pious faithful praying in a pew,
yet part of nature’s fleeting artifice,
no statued Helen in a window niche
nor Grecian goldsmith’s hammered golden bough.
I want to say the world is right
despite our suffering, loss and tears.
Of course it is, but what’s our choice?
We only know what’s in our sight.
So does your heart remain the same?
Your skin? Your bones? Your eyes? Your brain?
Please revel in my beauty now;
in weeks, I’m here and gone, somehow.
Evolution’s never done, you know,
so don’t pretend eternity’s your due.”
Van Anderson: My writing life began in 2nd grade when I wrote a story about Amos the mouse, who haunted the White House and ended up being swallowed by President Eisenhower’s wife—sadly, the wife and Amos both died. Since then, I’ve written hundreds of academic papers and filled thousands of journal pages. North Star Press published a collection of my poems, Tending the Garden, in June 2013. I have published poems in several journals and have also had essays and articles appear in newspapers, magazines and a variety of educational publications. I continue to write and publish poems and political commentary.