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ISSUE:  Autumn 2001

A wayward yellow-nosed albatross that apparently strayed
from its marine habitat in the Southern Hemisphere has
turned up in the New York metropolitan area, and has
even been spotted flying along the median strip of the
Garden State Parkway.—The New York Times, 5/25/00

Make a roof of Spanish tile and cover it
with Spanish moss. Or in the west window cast

an etched stained glass, not a sacred scene
but something secular—a vase of white peonies

like those rooted to the earth beneath the villa’s
terra cotta tiles in Samos or Santorini—

just a harmless dream of mine, but even so
some buds always fail to open, and if this is not,

as my son would say, fair, one answers, true,
with one’s own despotic voice, it’s a downhill slide.

There’s the fiddlehead fern beneath the spreading yew,
look how it resembles a coiled snake—and they’re edible, you

But the boy sees only tiny ants swarming
our balled-up peonies, buds primped for compliments

under a barrel of sky ragged dull with clouds that blot up
every cruelty: pressure, fluid, what Goethe said

at the moment of his death: “More light” and as the gods
might taunt: “More ants, a clew, a black crowned night heron.”

So I lose my place in all the empirical dazzle,
forget how simple my needs have grown: a garden,

a love that works, the sanguine search, one reliable compass
to ensure passage past the weave of slim trip wires,

their warp low slung & lurking—& maybe some incandescence
to accommodate a counterpoint of bugs busying the buds—still,

I’m faithless in the garden shed, scaring up clear chemicals,
ant killers in their unmarked mason jars, but only trowels

and blunted dibbers offer up their hafts, garden gloves caked
with last year’s dirt like stale frosting—while there’s my boy

out front, shaking stems with his small hands, ants free falling
to the ground with a kind of other-phylum joy—

again his faith healer’s cry for justice, the shake, the climb,
the steadfast truculent buds—until the rains drum

their own relentless meter & we run for cover,
& accuracy is strained, every flower a prophesy belied,

& Lord, look there! On our very garden gate woven through
blue and white with profligate clematis, that rogue albatross

two thousand miles off course eyes the foxglove, spruce,
even the new mown and shadowed lawn for a mate.

So never mind the fecund petals, perfumed, ripe.
Forget that rare expanse of wings. Only, if you will, leave

me the mottled sky, this tilted earth in its strange light,
the small hands hard at work below the eaves.


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