That Beauty in the Trees
You have a life brimming,
you like to say,
with truth, beauty, goodness,
and health, a life of not exactly poverty, and you
are not really old. This November day,
you and your love turn early
from the keyboards and ringing phones and go
walking hand in hand
through the respectable neighborhood.
Have the leaves ever been brighter?
is burning the fallen ones
against the law, or is that your
curling out of the deepest layers of your brain?
(You do not think "soul.") Maybe you say,
"That beauty in the trees was always there.
It's just that the fullness of living had
hidden it." Your love smiles as if to say,
Tell me more, O professore!
Therefore, you do: "I mean, the various greens
were their active lives, their
consuming of the sunlight,
their making of the molecules
that keep them going."
And now, the florid maples
sprayed with amethyst,
ocher oaks and crimson dogwoods,
incandescent jasmine of the hickories,
of this sassafras flaring
in the Salmacis-clutch
of a scarlet woodbine can
thrill any lovers' stroll into baffled tears.
Why can't we feel this all the time, whatever it is?
After a while, you might say, jauntily,
to recover the lightness, "The trees
have lost their relentless greenbacks, begin
to live on their small pensions,
prepare to become winter's
dark skeletons, and so
the yellows and vermilions and magentas, the
flashing dazzles that have been there all along
flame out like—what?—like the spirits
of honest old men
who wear their wives' useless breasts, like
of strong, tender women who've grown
She likes the men and women becoming each other.
Spirits, she says,
with the sidelong look that means
now you must say,
"Sure. In their eyes sometimes, but
your whole life
is a kind of retina: You can see their spirits,
even if spirits can't survive
the death of the flesh. Anymore than these colors
can survive December."
For the moment,
you believe what you’re saying.
And are there such good people? "Oh, yes,"
you have to say,
"for all your smiling. The ones
not like us: the quiet, simple people who've
struggled every day
for their food and clothing and shelter,
who've lived only
for their children
And who turn now away from the sunlight,
you suddenly want to say,
because it turns away from them,
and who begin
to burn with
the deep, silent anger
that we must say, we do say, we will always
say is a kind
Poem first published in Poetry Northwest