630 Readings

Yard Elegy


The Midwest’s humid bowl fills, laboring
my movements. Slender stalked,

the peonies stoop under ponderous blooms.
Their profusion of ruffle rivals any gown.

Within each flower, tiny ants cluster
& pillage for sugar, peeling the tissue-thin

petals of each balled bud. This must be
how life reveals us, nudged imperceptibly

by the slightest heft, until the soul
slips free in deathbed’s thick sweetness.

A single vase can suffuse a room,
its ineluctable scent sacking the body,

as if to talcum it violet, rose. On the table
beside my bed, the bouquet, in lush repose.


Like the rinds of a lime, a hinged moon, or
a four-eyed augur of death,

the luna moth clings to my window screen,

hind wings flaring & mouthless –
she is as she was meant to be,
perfect & light as air, her inevitable demise
made manifest in her very design –

but such intimacy with death, its bright sickle,

is too much, so I turn out the light
& let the moon hook night’s distant velum,

my own end cocooned within me.


The pink curl of another nestling lies
dead on our drive, wrinkled &
featherless. I lift it in a clutch of towels,

then drop it in the trash. Death
is as close as the next strong gust, as easily

opened as our front door, the damp
predawn grass cooling my son’s feet.

Such a fine threshold – the rim of a nest,
the line where lawn ends & the street’s dim
grave stretches wide. The young

are drawn to edges, to the place where
beams of light bear down upon them.


Like a lady shedding her stays, the maple’s bark drops away.

Like house lights doused, room by room, the mimosa fails:
last year one limb & this year two, branches that never
split into leaf, never bloom.

Like the desire that follows a jealous fire, the sapling’s foliage
flares, withers, & falls – only to unfurl again before
August, & then no more.

Like a pregnant belly, the infested stem of each cottonwood
leaf, aphid-choked, breaks & sinks in a slow green rain.


Everywhere, death. The clod of cat
dung I sift from the sandbox barrow,

that inch of standing water deposited
by last night’s rain in my son’s pool,

new mushrooms spreading their soft
gray umbrellas over our yard. I know

that I cannot protect him, even as
I latch him tight in his swing & push

until the tips of his sneakers brush
the pear tree’s leaves. He squeals –

the vowels break from his open throat
in violent delight, soaring – not,

I imagine, unlike the final moment
when the soul bursts into flower.

The swing’s red bucket tolls back &
forth, carrying him with it, in rapture.
Posted 08/28/12
from The Miniature Room (Truman State University Press, 2006)
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