This tall fern has a midrib so sturdy
I can pluck its broad width of green
and wave it before my face as I walk
the lane, the gnats and the deerflies
shooed pell-mell as the air ripples away
from my body. I’m no longer a target.
Do this enough, in three million years
I’ll have evolved a frontal “tail”
to cool my passion. Should the heat
and human nature continue for eons,
ferns may be as lofty as oaks,
we humans a scurry of ants—fancy ants
with rudimentary green tails in their heads,
still addicted to sweets, to nasturtiums,
to love, and to the crooked
avenues of desire that bring it home
to our little colonies in the fern groves….
Well, so much for this morning’s
vow to let fantasy fall away. No more,
I said, this substitute life that remains
stuck in my head. Too bad—I perform
so beautifully on that stage. Whatever
the right words, I say them. I’m exciting.
You’re bound by my spell; you even
love me—yes, you over there,
turning your head my way. But that
lowdown queasiness, the tight inner frown—
how seldom, if ever, I acknowledge these.
When I do, and if I listen faithfully,
what I hear is childhood’s bat cave echo,
You’ll never be good enough.
That’s what I believe, apparently.
Not evolution. Not the slow work of God.
Today, Rumi writes, a new madness is
trying to set us free. If so, says my head,
you can exchange old madness for new.
My head calls me you—and who is that?
I ask again and again, until at last
my slow-going stalactite consciousness
adds a glow-in-the-dark inch of joy—
then opens as daylilies do into a wide sky’s
uplift of light and air. To end a poem
in a mix of metaphors may be madness,
but I’ve just learned—waving my fern
down the lane, following what isn’t,
and what is, wherever they lead me—the real
work is not the poem, but what moves me to it,
evolving into this good silence. I won’t claim more.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.