poemoftheweek poemoftheweek.com poemoftheweek.org poem of the week
Orange-and-midnight the moth on the fringe tree—
first it nags a bloom; sips and chews; then shakes
the big flower. Then its wings slow. Grows
satiate, as in sex. Then still, as the good sleep after.
Each bloom a white torch more than a tree’s flower.
Each is one of ten or twelve, conic, one of many
made of many green-white or white petals
held out, as by a hand, from the reach of the limb.
A field this morning was full of white moths. More
in the side yard, in the bluebottle, lifting—fog
off the dew, white wings like paper over flames
and floating awry or pieces of petal torn off.
Weeks now my words on paper have burned.
Burned and flown, like a soul on fire, with
nothing to show but ash, and the ash flies too.
Today, in the news—so many martyrs—
an “unnamed suicide bomber” took herself into
the arms of flame, and five others, “by her own hand.”
Whitman means the beauty of the mind is terror.
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and
well-suited toward annihilation?
But there is no likeness beyond her body
in flames, for its moment, no matter its moment.
Yet the fringe bloom burns. Yet the moth shakes
and chews, as in sex. When the young maple
grows covered with seeds, they are a thousand
green wings, like chain upon chain of keys,
each with its tiny spark, trying the black lock.
A tumbler turns and clicks. The world once more
fills with fire, and the body, like ash, is ash.
We were done for. Things broken. Things ugly.
It being the shut end of night. Morning breaking, more
like a bruise smeared through the wet few uppermost leaves.
Not yet light so much as less dark. They shouldn’t grow
this far north. That’s what the book says. What book.
What I meant was, each day begins in the dark.
That’s useless that’s too late that’s a pathetic thing to say—
older than bees the magnolia. More primitive, the book
says, whose carpels are extremely tough. They do not flower
in sepals. They do not want such differentiation
in their flower parts, from whence the term tepals.
They open, the anthers, splitting themselves out. That’s your
melodrama. No they split at the front facing the flower center.
16-something. Pierre Magnol. Morning starting through them
like a purple bruise, then a cloud, as one small pale blue
stretchmark, another, then another. That’s not right.
Flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles. Too
early for bees. Grew tough to avoid damage by said beetles.
—There you have it. Magnolia virginiana. Subfamily
Magnolioideae of the family Magnoliaceae.
Relations have been puzzling taxonomists for a long time—
to survive ice ages, tectonic uptearing, slow drift
of the continents, a distribution scattered. Things too old
for change, mutinous in the half-light, and malignant.
Stop it please please. They shouldn’t be this far north.
They bloom in a cup of pink fire, each one, lit by an old oil.
Before us the bees. Before us the bees the beetles. These trees
—so what. We had walked out earlier, the porch, late
terrible dark night. Their natural range a disjunct dispersal.
No light. The magnolia. The eye begins to see. Then the long
horrible scrape on its trunk, his single stretching paring
of the bark back. But he didn’t finish his discomfort, his
antler velvet a cloud of sawdust and scrapings beneath like
small remains of a cold fire. All night trying, then no
longer trying, that’s when we walked out. He must have run.
What You Said
But before I died I smelled them, I could
have missed them so quickly rushing elseward.
Captivation depends don’t you think on
willingness sometimes to be caught be called
back as I was once, wet lowland where they
were leucojum vernum honey-like “They have
a slight fragrance” and a bright white button
of blooms “as soon as the snow melts in its
wild habitat” or small pill-shaped pale
with a green (occasionally yellow)
spot at the end of each tepal. Did you
find them soothing, did you affiliate
—sane and sacred there—particularly
in the singing, don’t you think it’s too late.
No I was walking for my health, lean down
and savor there, heard bleeding the thrush throat
the lilac. You have gone too far you say
things so as not to say something else. I
did wish to go back. Then you miss them
—too early for lilac—tell me where’s elseward—
I don’t even know what were they snowdrops
snowflakes each to keep and all and passed on
as quick as that, you are everything that
has not yet been lost is what you said—
-from Scavenger Loop, W. W. Norton & Company, selected by Guest Editor T.R. Hummer
PROMPT: As in "What You Said," recount a conversation you've had that, for whatever reason, has stuck with you. This conversation could have happened this morning or could have happened when you were a child. Maybe it was an argument, maybe you revealed something about yourself you didn't intend, maybe it taught you something new, maybe it scared you. Play with language. Quote. Reflect. Be mysterious. Don't just tell the story of the conversation or exchange, sing it.
BIO: David Baker is author of eleven books of poetry, recently Scavenger Loop (Norton, 2015) and Never-Ending Birds (Norton), which was awarded the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize in 2011. A dedicated poetry commentator, critic, and teacher, he has also published six prose books about the art, including Show Me Your Environment: Essays on Poetry, Poets, and Poems (Michigan, 2014) and Seek After: Essays on Seven Modern Lyric Poets (forthcoming in 2018). Among other awards are prizes and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Mellon Foundation, Poetry Society of America, and the Society of Midland Authors.
David Baker lives in Granville, Ohio, where he teaches at Denison University and holds the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Poetry. He also teaches frequently in the Warren Wilson MFA program for writers, as well as at many workshops, including the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, The Frost Place, Chautauqua Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Catskills Poetry Workshop, and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops in Italy and Ohio. For more than twenty years has served as Poetry Editor of The Kenyon Review.