My father said I could not do it, but all night I picked the peaches. The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily. I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden. How many ladders to gather an orchard? I had only one and a long patience with lit hands and the looking of the stars which moved right through me the way the water moved through the canals with a voice that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering and those who had gathered before me. I put the peaches in the pond's cold water, all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors, all night my back a straight road to the sky. And then out of its own goodness, out of the far fields of the stars, the morning came, and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses just after it has been rung, before the metal begins to long again for the clapper's stroke. The light came over the orchard. The canals were silver and then were not. and the pond was--I could see as I laid the last peach in the water--full of fish and eyes.
I told the boy I found him under a bush.
What was the harm? I told him he was sleeping
And that a black swan slept beside him,
The swan’s feathers hot, the scent of the hot feathers
And of the bush’s hot white flowers
As rank and sweet as the stewed milk of a goat.
The bush was in a strange garden, a place
So old it seemed to exist outside of time.
In one spot, great stone steps leading nowhere.
In another, statues of horsemen posting giant stone horses
Along a high wall. And here, were triangular beds
Of flowers flush with red flowers. And there,
Circular beds flush with white. And in every bush
And bed flew small birds and the cries of small birds.
I told the boy I looked for him a long time
And when I found him I watched him sleeping,
His arm around the swan’s moist neck,
The swan’s head tucked fast behind the boy’s back,
The feathered breast and the bare breast breathing as one,
And then very swiftly and without making a sound,
So that I would not wake the sleeping bird,
I picked the boy up and slipped him into my belly,
The way one might slip something stolen
Into a purse. And brought him here….
And so it was. And so it was. A child with skin
So white it was not like the skin of a boy at all,
But like the skin of a newborn rabbit, or like the skin
Of a lily, pulseless and thin. And a giant bird
With burning feathers. And beyond them both
A pond of incredible blackness, overarched
With ancient trees and patterned with shifting shades,
The small wind in the branches making a sound
Like the knocking of a thousand wooden bells….
Things of such beauty. But still I might
Have forgotten, had not the boy, who stands now
To my waist, his hair a cap of shining feathers,
Come to me today weeping because some older boys
Had taunted him and torn his new coat,
Had he not, when I bent my head to his head,
Said softly, but with great anger, “I wish I had never
Been born. I wish I were back under the bush,”
Which made the old garden rise up again,
Shadowed and more strange. Small birds
Running fast and the grapple of chill coming on.
There was the pond, half-circled with trees. And there
The flowerless bush. But there was no swan.
There was no black swan. And beneath
The sound of the wind, I could hear, dark and low,
The giant stone hooves of the horses,
Striking and striking the hardening ground.