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08-31-2017

David Baker

 

Simile   

1.

 

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.  

 

2.

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.

 

Magnolia 

 

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.