Bea Garth   © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Clemency
            for Charlotte


1.
       When, years ago,
we moved to the American Foursquare,
I cut away woodbine coiled
around a birch. Dead limbs fell.
I let a shoot grow from the bole, a sapling
now, a civil trump.

Weeds and roots cleared,
a tiger lily volunteered,
a bloom to cultivate, orange
red petals an afterglow at dusk.

Once, early winter, you chanced on our cat—
in his mouth, blood and cardinal feathers.
You had forgotten nature’s way.
Weeks later, you shouted, Basil!
He turned—
a bird flew from Basil’s paws.

What fills in, what holds out?
Dooryard violets overrun a yard.

Sometimes I hear calls of mourning doves.
Sometimes I believe I know what compels them.

2.
When the handsaw leapt from a birch branch,
I drew the teeth into my finger.
When I shut my eyes, branch and twigs
became a diagram deepening,
a blueprint of the season—
long, gray day, blood down the drain,
the deep stripe bandaged, pulsing.
When I knelt by a rose, I touched
black spots on the leaves, dry blood on my hand.

In turn, crows returning to the fields,
summoning crows
in the near dark, fireflies, few at first,
an early apple dropped—

white paws stalking glowed over grass.

3.
August moves on slowly, a ripe hue
spreading from an apple stem.
Dirt deep in our lifelines,
our palms blend with the shade.
A chance-sewn clemency guides our hands—strange
which flowers may survive with human care.

When I walk through Lou’s garden,
Lou has worked the earth to match a vision,
shapes and depths hanging fire, or budding,
or hanging on, or dead.

Below the Carpathians,
in Lilya’s fenced-in garden,
Lilya’s cats and chickens
don’t disturb her daffodils.
Like Lou, she knows life from life.
Her dog and goats wait at the gate.

4.
Under the cherry tree,
nearly uprooted from spring snow,
compost becomes a black mound
of transubstantiation—
leaves layered with pitch and clay,
mixed with mulch, yield
loosestrife, mint and roses.

Wilderness is never far off.
A choice is hidden for a time,
like the maple shoot rooted
in an ostrich fern under the maple,
a sapling I let stand late one summer
years ago.
                When I lift out a shoot
I sense the fern is happy.

A crow sifts through the compost.
A mate, above, watches for something.

Seasons or the cat—
crows, you know, can count to five.

 


James Brasfield
Copyright © 2015  

James Brasfield’s second collection of poems, Infinite Altars, is forthcoming from LSU Press, autumn 2016.


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