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Poetry Friday

Attempting asceticism during the prolific flowering of spring is not easy, even for those most committed to fasting from media and cupcakes and meat, but there’s a certain reflectivity to all the puddling. There’s a certain sweet sorrow to the fragility of new life. This sorrow and reflection is apparent in Michael Chitwood’s poem “In Song the Words are Fruit, in Prayer Blight.” The fast flurry of growth imagery is paced by slower, Pooh-Bear-like understanding: “Time is taking its time for the moment. / Nothing doing though I think a pepper / is ripening on the pepper plant.” Amid fluttering butterflies, a snake’s “slow muscle” inches toward the cardinal nest. Eggs are eaten. Amid all this life, there is death, which supports more life. Section division indicates more a break in physical space than in thought, for in the next section, at a memorial beside the road, the speaker finds that

nothing is more silent

in sad mute elegy than plastic flowers

and the slipshod cross that all afternoon

keeps driving itself into the earth.

Spring feels obscene in the face of grief, either anticipated or past, and the speaker’s observations in this poem give readers permission to voice that dissonance, to watch bloom, and to feel the weight of a stake driven into the earth while they remain slow in the bustling season, wondering quietly where the “rungs the light has laid down” lead, and if they should follow.

–S. M. Pruis

In Song the Words are Fruit, in Prayer Blight

Butterflies drop-stitch to the butterfly bush,

yellow hinge, black hinge,

freed from the door of perception.

Spurt of wren flight out of the boxwood.

The morning idles, engines trimmed,

cicadas trolling the understory.

Time is taking its time for the moment.

Nothing doing though I think a pepper

is ripening on the pepper plant.

Then I notice the slow muscle of him

climbing the dogwood, yard-long,

inching his way

toward the cardinal nest.

He’ll unhinge his jaw if need be.

What is more silent than an egg?

He’ll take each one into his mouth,

thread himself with them,

his body bulge strung.

If he’s grateful I don’t know it

when he lets himself back down noiselessly.

§

Hard by joe-pye and jimson weed,

in the scrick-scrack of the ditch trash,

a cross,

some leftover slats knocked together,

painted white, a bouquet of plastic flowers beside.

Someone died here, perhaps of excessive speed,

perhaps nodding into the last nap,

and now nothing is more silent

in sad mute elegy than plastic flowers

and the slipshod cross that all afternoon

keeps driving itself into the earth.

§

The night is body temperature.

Full moon glints the nail heads

in the backyard picket fence.

Trees glide in the orb’s good graces.

Is there anything more quiet than moonlight?

Slats and shadows of slats, that bright a night,

rungs the light has laid down.



The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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