Cherry blossoms

- 1941-

I went down to
mingle my breath
with the breath
of the cherry blossoms.

There were photographers:
Mothers arranging their
children against
gnarled old trees;
a couple, hugging,
asks a passerby
to snap them
like that,
so that their love
will always be caught
between two friendships:
ours & the friendship
of the cherry trees.

Oh Cherry,
why can't my poems
be as beautiful?


A young woman in a fur-trimmed
coat sets a card table
with linens, candles,
a picnic basket & wine.
A father tips
a boy's wheelchair back
so he can gaze
up at a branched
heaven.
                     All around us
the blossoms
flurry down
whispering,

        Be patient
you have an ancient beauty.

                                            Be patient,
                                  you have an ancient beauty.

The Weakness

That time my grandmother dragged me
through the perfume aisles at Saks, she held me up
by my arm, hissing, "Stand up,"
through clenched teeth, her eyes
bright as a dog's
cornered in the light.
She said it over and over,
as if she were Jesus,
and I were dead.  She had been
solid as a tree,
a fur around her neck, a
light-skinned matron whose car was parked, who walked
  on swirling
marble and passed through
brass openings—in 1945.
There was not even a black
elevator operator at Saks.
The saleswoman had brought velvet
leggings to lace me in, and cooed,
as if in service of all grandmothers.
My grandmother had smiled, but not
hungrily, not like my mother
who hated them, but wanted to please,
and they had smiled back, as if
they were wearing wooden collars.
When my legs gave out, my grandmother 
dragged me up and held me like God
holds saints by the
roots of the hair.  I begged her
to believe I couldn't help it.  Stumbling,
her face white
with sweat, she pushed me through the crowd, rushing
away from those eyes
that saw through
her clothes, under
her  skin, all the way down
to the transparent 
genes confessing.

In Knowledge of Young Boys

i knew you before you had a mother,
when you were newtlike, swimming,
a horrible brain in water.
i knew you when your connections
belonged only to yourself,
when you had no history
to hook on to,
barnacle,
when you had no sustenance of metal
when you had no boat to travel
when you stayed in the same
place, treading the question;
i knew you when you were all
eyes and a cocktail,
blank as the sky of a mind,
a root, neither ground nor placental;
not yet
red with the cut nor astonished
by pain, one terrible eye
open in the center of your head
to night, turning, and the stars
blinked like a cat. we swam
in the last trickle of champagne
before we knew breastmilk—we
shared the night of the closet,
the parasitic
closing on our thumbprint,
we were smudged in a yellow book.

son, we were oak without
mouth, uncut, we were
brave before memory.

Blackbottom

When relatives came from out of town,
we would drive down to Blackbottom,
drive slowly down the congested main streets
     -- Beubian and Hastings --
trapped in the mesh of Saturday night.
Freshly escaped, black middle class,
we snickered, and were proud;
the louder the streets, the prouder.
We laughed at the bright clothes of a prostitute,
a man sitting on a curb with a bottle in his hand.
We smelled barbecue cooking in dented washtubs,
     and our mouths watered.
As much as we wanted it we couldn't take the chance.

Rhythm and blues came from the windows, the throaty voice of
     a woman lost in the bass, in the drums, in the dirty down
     and out, the grind.
"I love to see a funeral, then I know it ain't mine."
We rolled our windows down so that the waves rolled over us
     like blood.
We hoped to pass invisibly, knowing on Monday we would
     return safely to our jobs, the post office and classroom.
We wanted our sufferings to be offered up as tender meat,
and our triumphs to be belted out in raucous song.
We had lost our voice in the suburbs, in Conant Gardens,
     where each brick house delineated a fence of silence;
we had lost the right to sing in the street and damn creation.

We returned to wash our hands of them,
to smell them
whose very existence
tore us down to the human.

 

Related Poems

Cherry Blossom Storm

               A mother is a mother still,

                 The holiest thing alive.

                    Coleridge, "The Three Graves"

 

"Draping my body in the usual sterile manner,

they placed me in a supine position and adequate

general anesthesia was obtained. Then a collar incision

was made at the base of my neck and the strap muscles 

incised, the dissection continuing sharply over

both my lobes as inferior vessels and veins 

were isolated, ligated, and divided, the cut surfaces

like a cherry blossom storm, except for a small amount 

of beefy red identified at the pole. Awakening later, 

I heard a voice muttering: Don't worry about adultery 

(he sleeps in a different room). Don't go down after 

midnight. Don't take tranquillizers. Don't love. Don't hate. 

Sometimes, the paralysis of a soul awakens it. Sometimes, 

awful things have their own kind of beauty."