Bone-spur, stirrup of veins—white colt
a tree, sapling bone again, worn to a splinter,
a steeple, the birch aground

in its ravine of leaves. Abide with me, arrive
at its skinned branches, its arms pulled
from the sapling, your wrist taut,

each ganglion a gash in the tree's rent
trunk, a child's hackwork, love plus love,
my palms in your fist, that

trio a trident splitting the birch, its bark
papyrus, its scars calligraphy,
a ghost story written on

winding sheets, the trunk bowing, dead is
my father, the birch reading the news
of the day aloud as if we hadn't

heard it, the root moss lit gas,
like the veins on your ink-stained hand—
the birch all elbows, taking us in.

More by Cynthia Zarin

Skating in Harlem, Christmas Day

To Mary Jo Salter

Beyond the ice-bound stones and bucking trees, 
past bewildered Mary, the Meer in snow, 
two skating rinks and two black crooked paths

are a battered pair of reading glasses 
scratched by the skater's multiplying math. 
Beset, I play this game of tic-tac-toe.

Divide, subtract. Who can tell if love surpasses? 
Two naughts we've learned make one astonished 0— 
a hectic night of goats and compasses.

Folly tells the truth by what it's not— 
one X equals a fall I'd not forgo. 
Are ice and fire the integers we've got?

Skating backwards tells another story— 
the risky star above the freezing town, 
a way to walk on water and not drown.

Blue Vase

Because you like to sleep with curtains drawn,
        at dawn I rose and pulled the velvet tight.

You stirred, then set your hand back on my hip,
       the bed a ship in sleep’s doubled plunging 

wave on wave, until as though a lighthouse
      beam had crossed the room: the vase between

the windows suddenly ablaze, a spirit,
        seized, inside its amethyst blue gaze.  

What’s that? you said. A slip of light, untamed,
       had turned the vase into a crystal ball,

whose blue eye looked back at us, amazed, two
       sleepers startled in each other’s arms,
     
while day lapped at night’s extinguished edge,
            adrift between the past and future tense,
   
        a blue moon for an instant caught in its chipped
                 sapphire—love enduring, give or take.
 

After Anna Akhmatova

As the future ripens in the past...
a terrible festival of dead leaves

—Anna Akhmatova

The trees talk quietly among themselves
the thrush sings its brown song brushed with blue
the roses from the bodega open in the vase

and under the streetlight the long shadows
tarnishing the day as we know it—if
I ask for a stone you give me a stone, 

if I ask for water I do not get water,
everything I love weighted and found
wanting, as if the world knew how to give

answers to questions. In the long generous
shadow of history, I wake and wonder
how long it can go on, my lips touching

your ear, asking, what are you thinking—
while in the capital the lion stalks his cage
and on the veld the scorched banyans bend

under their fruit, the camps charred, no one
to pick it. A long time ago, after months
when death came so quickly to us it was

as if we had written an invitation, crows
settled in the ghost trees. There is my
mother, you said, and my father. It goes on.