Now light fills the tree outside our window—
tree whose fruit, when it comes, only the birds,
and just a few of them, want to eat, tree
that turns stiff and dry midsummer, rushing
the season, so we fear the city will come
and butcher it, though so far it’s been spared
because in spring it still swarms with thousands
of petals, white as moths done with hunger,
white as tiny brides flittering in the breeze,
asking, “Will I be happy? Is this a mistake?”—
or the question too few of us ever ask, “Will I
make him (or her) happy? Will I be able to love
when it’s hard?” Hard like waking for sunrise
midsummer—or reading Saint John of the Cross
who says light first comes to us as darkness.
In my dream it could have been the saint’s voice
that broke through some penthouse party, asking,
“Do you want to stay here in your red dress,
with your expensive wine and smart chatter,
or do you want something more?” And how
was my dream-self tapping at walls to know
one would creak open onto a dark corridor
where “more” became a slow procession, pilgrims
in hooded robes turning from everything bright?
At least our tree gleams—ours because it’s grown
higher than the upstairs windows, so we half dream
we live in its branches, ours because we tell
the seasons by it, blossom and leaf-fall-too-soon
and winter’s bare limbs, stripped like a saint’s
uplifted arms taking whatever comes as love.
Once I fell out of a tree. Watching, my love
thought it was my death he saw. Maybe it was—
that bright thicket of leaves I crashed through
like a clumsy bird, or like a girl left back
and too big for her grade. I felt that slow,
suspended in twig-snap and fluttering green,
not grasping it was big trouble. I still don’t
know how I got to where people stood over me,
asking, “Can you move this? Do you feel that?”
Whole minutes are blacked out. A young man said,
“If she walks away from this, I’ll believe in God.”
I don’t know if he did. But I got up, stepped
across the gap of lost time and torn boughs
into the sweet weight of sunlight striking earth
every second, whether we notice or not.
Dawn in winter. Delicate, as if a painter
had licked the tip of the brush for fine work—
first twig, then trunk, the light made visible
by what it touches. Years, and still that dream
haunts me, its deep voice, dark corridor
with torches flaring, guttering on damp walls,
and those hooded figures, all foot scrape
and drone, that deep hypnotic hum.
It went on and on, forever I thought,
until in the distance a low door appeared.
Through it a light-bathed garden and a tree
that may have been ordinary, hard to say
after all that darkness, after the dream
bent me so I could pass into—how easy
it sounds—the brightness, the green.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.