Lone Elm (#36)

I asked an old friend to
Help me identify a tree
I had never seen before,
And I think we were both

Surprised when she said
—Hesitatingly at first, then
With cautious wonder—
“I… I want to say it’s an elm,”

Both of us knowing it
Defied logic, odds,
Aware of how the disease
Had arrived long ago, killing

Ninety nine thousand
Nine hundred and ninety nine
Elms for every one remaining,
As here, rooted, solitary. Alive.

Who knows how?
How we stay friends,
I mean, knowing what
We think we know,

That life goes on,
So busy, so bothered, so
When the phone rings,
And the voice, carefully

Composed, bridging
Distance, decades,
Cracks—In a single syllable,
Our world falls, fathomless,

While the lucky elm, miraculous,
Feels the sun on its leaves,
The rain on its roots, and,
Missing no one, misses nothing.

Cloud Shapes (#35)

September, spaciously
Spidered, appled and
Gleaming, as though
We could see the air—

Eyes lifted, recalling
Third grade clouds drawn
Fluffy and puffy and never
Quite white, crayons melting

Through blue construction paper.
After school, laying on the
Lawn with my aunt, eighty four,
The one who knew a one-legged

Civil War drummer boy, September
Clouds taking any shape they
Pleased, she pointed:
“That one’s a tea kettle,” and

“There’s a bowler hat.”
Bless my aunt. She never said
“Look, a clock, spinning
Backwards. Wait, forwards!”

Or, “There! Pages
Torn from a calendar, tossed
Against the autumn sky!”
Those dull, daily aches

Everywhere, always. Anyway,
Enough of these shapes.
She saw, instead, bicycles,
Elephants, and birthday cakes.

Avocado (#34)

The first time I ever
Really noticed anything
—That is to say, that I
Noticed I was noticing—

Was on a commuter train
In California, age 25, traveling
To visit an aunt, when,
Katy-corner to me, at a

Table-seat that faced backwards,
A man opened a crumpled paper
Sack and produced, from within,
A plastic knife, a plastic spoon,

And one large avocado.
Don’t laugh—I had never seen
An avocado before,
Didn’t know what it was,

Having grown up on frozen
Pot pies, hot dogs, begging
My mother for nine piece
Amalgamated poultry from McDonalds;

And if California was exotic,
That avocado seemed otherworldly,
Ovoid, olivine, bumpy as
Dinosaur hide. I watched clandestinely

As the man sliced it lengthwise,
Orbiting his palm,
Cleaving the fruit like a geode
To reveal the most unexpected

Green I had ever seen,
Not mint, not lime, but
Bright like spring clover,
Creamy as fresh milk,

And within, as though
A world awaited, an enormous,
Perfectly round pit,
A globe, profound,

Which he neatly removed,
Scooping it loose and dropping it,
Nonchalantly, into the sack.
My eyes were wide!

See, how he sprinkled the salt!
See, how he ladled the green meat
To his mouth, sweetly eating!
When he was done, scraping the

Shells for the final, curling petals,
I could have gone on watching,
From California to West Virginia—
The width of the world, in a paper bag.

Old Barn (#33)

There’s an old barn from my
Childhood that no longer exists,
Cavernous, capacious,
Holding great heaps

Of nothing that makes sense—
Canvas buckets, barley,
Barely able to keep hay dry,
Feeding spiders—

Gone now, except for foundation
Stones, thousand pound
Beams once spanning widths of
Sky, capped with tin,

Beneath which,
In 1988, in the straw mow,
My best friend Harry Jenkins
Play-wrestled Jessica Dillon

Into the softness,
While the girl next door and I
Wordlessly excused ourselves
Into the light,

Fecund, irresistible,
To the mud of the stream bank,
Far older than the straw,
Barley, even the barn itself,

And making more sense
To me then, now, than
Wood, thrust splintering into air,
Already swept away.