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Poetry

When I look up, into the needles
of the cypress tree, brown in November,
I see cinnamon—I see wood of violins,
breast feathers of the sedge wren,
a setter’s fur, toasted grain….
I see the cypress glowing within
a cloudless noon, pale blue at horizon
as background of a Botticelli annunciation,
that turns unpaintably, achingly blue
as it steepens toward the zenith,
drawing my eyes upward, to think on heaven
I don’t know if I believe in,
but have been talking about lately
with my six-year-old daughter
who’s asking the questions I can’t answer,
except in the default, just-like-earth-but-sweeter,
pony-meadow-bubblegum terms
that please her, but do not satisfy,
as evidenced by the way each question
seems to catch on another question.

Years ago, a young filmmaker with AIDS
filmed the progress of his dying;
when he could no longer lift his limbs
or raise his head, his lover carried on, filming
his face in close-up, eyes clotted with mucus,
blackened skin. I remember how I flinched,
and shuddered; but the camera kept insisting, beseeching
to look hard at this death, its material
claim: its body, and after, the box
delivered to the apartment, the cylinder inside,
full of ashes the lover sifts in his fingers
for bone. And I wince again, remembering skeletons
of deer I’ve seen dangling from streamside trees
after flash floods. And I’ve read how witnesses,
after a typhoon, found corpses lodged in tree crotches.
But now, looking up at the cypress, I’m seeing
needles blazing gold-bronze, and further,
a purity of blue, heavenly purity granted, I know,
only by desiccated November air, and the emptiness
of space beyond it…. So what is left,
considering the nothing I know of this nothingness,
but to love the materials we’re given here
to know—and if it helps us know them—to bless?


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