Field Guide to the Chaparral

Leah Naomi Green
The fire beetle only mates
when the chaparral is burning,

and the water beetle
will only mate in the rain.

In the monastery’s kitchen, the nuns
don’t believe me when I tell them how old I am,
that you were married before.

The woman you find attractive
does not believe me when I look at her kindly. 

There are candescent people in the world.
It will only be love
 
that I love you with.
When we get home,
 
there will be our kitchen, the dishes undone.
There will be our bedroom.
 
What is it you eventually recognized
in my face that allowed you to believe me?
 
Beauty that did not come from you—
remember how it did not come from you?
 
As white sage does not come from the moon
but is found by it and lit.
 
The Buddhists say
that the front of the paper
 
cannot exist without the back.
Because there is a there,
 
there is a here. Chaparral,
the density of growth,
 
and the tattered chaps
the mappers wore
 
through it because they had to,
to keep walking without
 
being hurt. It is OK if we hurt
one another.
 
Chaparral needs fire.
(The pinecones would not open
 
otherwise.) Love needs lover,
whose last lover was flood.

More by Leah Naomi Green

To the Cardinal, Attacking His Reflection in the Window

“It is your very self” I tell him.  
He has never seen me.  

His quick coin of breath disappears on the glass as it forms: air 
that feeds his bones their portion

willingly as it feeds mine.  He spends his here, 
besieged by the dull birds who gather 

and whom he cannot touch, his own feathers 
red as wrought blood.  

Dear bird, how many selves 
must you vanquish? 

In the mornings, his wings are backlit.  They are beating, 
delicate, cruciform, hollow feather, hollow bone.  

In the blizzard his furor is the only color, 
the only shape.  He is waiting 

for the coward to come out.  There is nothing 
all winter he has saved to eat.  

I saw a female the day before he disappeared.  
Her beak just as orange, her body, calm, watched his.  

I made voices for her: variations on the pride 
and hemmed patience of women I’d known 

whose husbands did insistent, strong, 
and strange things.  Maybe she knew it was spring.  I didn’t.  

The next day he came once 
to throw the bright dime of his life to the walled world, 

as if to make sure 
it was not feather against feather that hurt him. 

Narration, Transubstantiation

“God is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.”
                                                              —Borges


1.

The peony, which was not open this morning, has opened,
falling over its edges 

like the circumference of God, still clasped 
at the center:

my two-month-old daughter’s hand 
in Palmer reflex, having endured 

from the apes: ontogeny
recapitulating phylogeny, clutching for fur.  

Her face is always tilted up when I carry her,  
her eyes, always blue.  

She is asking nothing of the sky, nothing 
of the pileated woodpeckers,

their directionless wings, directed bodies,
the unmoved moving.


2.

Hold still, 
song of the wood thrush, 

twin voice boxes poised, smell of the creek
and the locust flowers, white as wafers 

on the branches, communion: pistil, stamen, bee.  
Hold still.   

She doesn’t say 
a word.

 

3.

When we eat, 
what we eat is the body 

of the world.  
Also when we do not eat.  

She is asking the sky for milk.  
Take and eat, we tell her, 

this is my body 
which is given for you, child,

who are here now, 
though you were not, 

though you will be old 
then absent again: sad 

to us going forward in time
but not back.  Not sad to you at all.  

The peony whose circumference 
is nowhere, you, whose head 

now is weighted to my chest, 
the creek stringing lights 

along next to us,
the peony which has opened.

Becoming Sisters

I cut a cantaloupe from its rind and hold it, scalped 
and slipping.  Inside it, there are seeds in folding rows, 
dark in the concentric hollow, and I don’t know how 
I will remove them, 

and I don’t know how they keep one another, 
in loose grasp, from falling, 
or what they would touch if they fell.

Washing dishes she notices, and is startled 
by the dent at the base of her thumb that appears 
when she holds her hand splayed
and the forearm does not quite meet the smaller bones.

Morning in the kitchen, light bright metal in the sink, 
I go to stand beside her, 
show her my own, matching hollow.

Slowly we are removing from our belief 
those who, we’ve been taught, understand things,
the calm ones in clean shoes.

Tenderly we are removing them, 
from the walls like fire escapes that have allowed us 
to sit inside without concern.

Inside we find that we are standing, together at the sink
and we begin to cut the melon 
whichever way we can.