So concludes an essay on “Fern Hill,” in which the student seems
somewhere between jazzed up & pissed off that green might mean
so many things from one stanza to the next: here, a blooming

Eden proxy; here, rot made by the grip of time. For starters. Or
that sun-slaked field, not far from our classroom, as lush-green
as any Welsh farmyard, greyed overnight with frost. Emerald

beer bottle hurled from a car. The slack-jawed lime-green
goblin face spanning a front porch post-Halloween
for so many weeks it looks like it’s here to stay. The long-ago

brown-green of Cleveland, where it rained always & without pity
upon a past I crave despite myself & our team lost always 14—2.
Every time we waited in the bleachers for the game to resume,

my father would look down upon the outfield’s diagonal lines
& proclaim Still a lot of green out there, meaning anything
can happen & will. Have you ever heard in a crowd the saddest part

of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” where everyone lies & pretends
we don’t care if we ever get back & makes the last word echo
twice more? We always want to get back, whether or not

we’re hailing childhood green. Like the student in her essay,
I too could keep rattling off images of spring & decay—June
sunset horizon flash, summer hair stained olive from churning

over-chlorinated pools, green shadow of a hand somewhere
that makes it feel as if owls were bearing everything away—
instead of looking again at the image online I glimpsed before

returning to the still-ungraded hay-high stack of student work. 
Maybe you saw it too? Maybe you also had the spellbound luck
of wandering to other tasks instead of asking what it means to know

anything can happen in a wholly different way, instead of looking 
once more at the slash of police tape that is the only horizon
that matters just now for the two men in the photograph who sit

together on the curb, faces glowing blue-red in the lights, both of them
bleary-eyed but alive, swaddled in aftermath & a blanket that is green,
a detail that couldn’t matter less, given how the numbers of the dead

still rise. Here we are again, as inevitable as the clock’s tick, looking in
at a place that now will never be young. Is there a way to say it—
There’s been a shooting—that will allow it to be heard, remembered

& heard without the easy glide of our past tense? That will stop us
from wanting to turn to anything under the wide starry sky that is not
the green fire burning in the minds of those men or the green

of a blanket America provides & provides without change? 

Copyright © 2019 by Matt Donovan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.