Milkweed, Fall Aspect

   Fireweed Poems
 Songs of Love and Loss II


A world without light or
sound is thinkable,

but not a world




Some colors are known
to attract not only

the wingèd creatures of delight
that fly the skies of the warmer seasons,

but also the young heart which is
sometimes seen to flower even
in the very old.

Stepping out of the universal gray
of newspaper life,

closing her guide, thinking to herself,
living in a world where even
the goodness of mother's milk
must sometimes be questioned,

she needs not a soul to tell her
that, this color, this peaceful being
of high summer,

is good, is beautiful—
some might say,

   the very essence of what is real.

Face to Face

Deep in thought, he had come
to see the abstract symbols as
a mathematics-to-be-felt, much like
musicians are said to read the notes
of a score, sensing movement where
others see only isolated black figures
on an empty page.

"That's it!" he said out loud,
while making slow sinuous gestures
with his hands, suddenly self-conscious.

   "Cosmic arrow;
   telluric serpent."

   braided together like
   vines climbing a stake.
   "That's what they meant."

Looking up from the display of
broken pottery fragments, remembering
himself, then breathless— she—
had been standing there for some time,
watching, invisibly.

He noticed for some reason how black
her hair was, and that it somehow seemed
like she was standing there, barefoot.
She smiled and looked quickly away.

How had she found him there, alone, among
other tourists in the hidden understory
of the ancient church?

Like a whole metropolis suddenly
blacked out, his thought stopped, no
longer calculating the unknown trajectories
of timeless images, standing face to face
with the fact that, evidently, when
there is love,
       two people know
       things that thought
       as we now know it
       knows nothing about.

Walking towards her, clumsily, he stopped half way,
as she, as if not yet fully manifested in time, raised
a finger to her lips, looked down again,
and then slipped away into the crowd.

Years later, he would still rehearse again and again
in his mind those exact movements— of how she
had somehow found him there, and yet, just

   as quickly, had vanished. For days
   afterwards, he seemed to see
   her, or some faint trace of her,
   everywhere—wherever, he looked.

Far Away from Home

A radio plays in the empty kitchen.

Wind-eyes, opening to the West.

A gaze, motionless, longing for distance;

In the background, a keyboard's thin,
electric sound, its bass firmly
rooted in the past, but higher, five fingers
feeling nervously about, far away from home.

A gold ring, stuck on water-soaked hands,
rolls out that evening through a crack in the door.

At night, in thought's house, a question
walks from street to street, alone.

It asks,

"Which way,
    to the river,
       to the other side?"

But no one seems to know.

There isn't a bridge.

There isn't even any water about.

And so, even the richest of sounds
   is so easily lost, finding no echo, no
      willing ears, no smooth surface upon
which to spread its waves.


Fountains, fountains,

In a city of a thousand
fountains, she


the clear, cool water,
the oddly straight metal pipe,
his lips...

Only then did he know
did he know, for sure.



under the archway
she pressed his back
to her chest,

the point where straight walls
meet the impossibility
of strong curved stone ceilings.

Moving, they crossed, as if
transformed, the unmarked


Inner Chamber

When the size
of a space
is just right,

a sound's echo
folds into itself and
is continuously reborn,

just as a departing moon
can sometimes be seen
to draw into itself

the light of a rising star,
somehow helping, somehow pulling it
over the great distances to the East.

With But One

Saint John's Wort:—
Poking out at you from sandy waste
places and other disturbed sites,

   a yellow which could only have ripened
   in the light of high mountain summer,

   needle-like leaves neatly ordered
   in four cross-shaped rows.

Odd, how some plants must suffer names
which seem not quite at home with their physical beauty,
even though they may have their own story to tell.

Hypericum, as the ancients called it, referred,
in the culture of catacombs, incense and large
standing armies, not to a Saint's day on a calendar
thought to be especially auspicious for collecting herbs,

but rather to a ritual, practiced to this day
in parts of the world, of placing a sprig or two
above a crucifix to ward
off bad spirits.

Most would say, superstition,

but more certain is that,
in an age devoted more to speedy
labyrinths of hot wires of every description
than to speculation about things not obviously physical,

there's but little energy left for the work of
finding new names which have a bit of love in them,
not so much to replace the old, but rather, to add
a new chapter to their tale, the sounds of which
might not only bless those who say them, but
also each leaf, each petal, of the plant itself.

Think of it...

Mothers already know this. They hear
it in the way their children ask,

     "Mom, what does 'wort' mean?"

Perhaps it is true that each name of a plant
is something more, something more than just a sound,
something more like a spoken poem. And why should they,
or we for that matter, have to make do --

   with but one?

A Garden Pea

A pea plant climbing to the sun,
little three-fingered hands, reaching,
spiraling out in search of support,

  a movement of connection,
  a meaning unfolding,
  a plant weaving itself
  into the world.

A pea plant in isolation?
Finding nothing, folding back,
tendrils turning in upon themselves,

  a pattern broken,
  an empty hand
  retreats into

    the essence of art denied.

A Witcher of Wells

Before she can say "don't!", with
one quick slice of his knife he
cut another branch from the tree.

   "Hold it like this.
    Both hands."

He walked slowly but rhythmically, she,
at an uneasy distance, following.

   "There," he says.
   "They cross here," making
    a slow gesture with one
    of his hands, pointing down.

It was not her disbelief, at
least not at first, but when
another is sure of a thing
you can neither sense nor see,

how are you to know?

He handed her his stick
and with a few strokes drove
a stake into the ground.

   "Could he be right?" she thought.

That first winter, the new well
didn't freeze. He had said it wouldn't.

Years later, always come fall, she
took a simple pleasure in showing
her children, and her children's

the striking yellow-orange petals
of flowers which seem neither too late
nor too early,

but always just in time to remind her
of the mysterious secret life of twigs
which point both North and South, and
the gift of pure, deep,

    sweet water.

Under the Tulip Tree

She thought quietly to herself:

   "Why is it that some people
   look as if they're wearing
   uniforms even when they're not?
   Do I look like that?"

Sitting under the departure tree
she knows so well, full crown of leaves,
summer sun warming her face, thinking,

was it Sunday, or was it
still Saturday? She was trying
hard to figure it out, remember...

The night before had
been intense. They
had lost three, or was it four?

The gray weather-beaten spruce
planks of a bench made for two,
hungry for company,

an unbroken view of a lake
reflecting clearly the suchness

of a welcome morning
free of work,

already filling with the collective
thought of

   "too little of this;
   and too much of that."

pondering, as her cigarette begins
to burn slightly too hot,

how these large birds of endless skies
and open waters

move so gracefully together,
so peacefully feet-flat-on-earth
and neck-held-high-in-morning-air,
among and within themselves, were
it not for the slight trace of fear

   she sensed they still felt for her.

North Face

"His growing is: being defeated, profoundly,
by ever greater things."

"Sein Wachstum ist: Der Tiefbesiegte
von immer Größerem zu seim."

              Rainer Maria Rilke

Relief. Relief, the
deafening roar of the helicopter.
Relief. Relief.

She sat between the men,
shivering uncontrollably, the world
empty of sound, understanding nothing
of what they said. She saw only
the lips move, horrifyingly slow, time
and space ripped apart. "Where
is he?"
she asked.

Their first night out
she had slept so deeply,
awakening with the coming
light, feeling the warmth on
her whole body, watching
the earth discovering
all the many colors, one by one,
as if for the first time.

She had heard the rocks fall,
but couldn't see them,
a high pitched buzz dropping off rapidly.
None had touched her.

She had had a premonition
the day before. She had dropped
one of the water bottles as
they both watched, together,
paralyzed in fear, how quickly it
accelerated beyond their grasp
and had slipped
from the ledge and out of

sight only to reappear ramming
against needles of granite and ice,
falling so far and fast that it separated
from the body of its sound.

He had broke her fear with
a gentle laugh, saying that if it
snowed again that day, they
would have water enough.

A photograph: Deeply tanned skin.
Serious face. Hair which had known
much sun and weather. The smile which
he carried with him always.

They gave her something warm to drink.
She pushed it away, then reluctantly,
shaking, took it to her lips."Where
is he?"

After the shower of rocks,
there was only wind, and space,
a terrible empty space.

There was no weight
at the other end. She
hadn't pulled.

They were descending fast."Where is
None of the three men spoke.

A photograph: She loved the ropes.
Everything about them, the feel,
the craft, the color, the ritual of
care, packing them out, of putting
them away.

They were descending fast. She noticed
the leather boots of one of the men, how
they seemed to fit so perfectly.
"Where is he?" she asked.

...p e r f e c t l y. None of the three men spoke.
Even with the noise of the landing, the world was still,
terrifyingly still—wholly, wholly, wholly


(Coda) The Bell

The point at the center of a cross,
where wet and cold meets warm and dry,
and flowing waters and cultures divide.

North side and South side,
how could I ever choose? Swaying
back and forth, I am the bell
that rings out on all sides.

strophe: an order of movement which articulates itself into stanzas or groupings
or clusters of an irregular number of lines of irregular length; alternatively, in the
original Greek meaning, a complementary back and forth between the two sides
of the orchestra.

katastrophe: the conflicting orders of movement of degenerative chaos and disaster;
alternatively, in the original Greek meaning, "the return to a point of rest and axial
equilibrium of a lyre string after it has ceased to vibrate," which is, therefore, once
again in a state of neutrality.

(Photo: Milkweed, Fall Aspect; North America)
| Songs of Love and Loss: Part I ; Part II |
| go to Picture/Poems: Central Display | go to PicturePage: Week IV |
see also Week V (5) Departure Tree |
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Copyright © 2002 Cliff Crego   Comments to
XI.26.1999 (Last update: III.6.2002 )