Fire Warnings

So much on the verge
of flame.
In a hot
wind anything
is tinder: paper, sage

feverish with bees,
your auburn
hair, my hand
that glows with a thought.
Sunset

or sleepless dawn,
nothing is sure
but what’s already burned—
water that’s ash, steel
that has flowed and cooled,

though in the core
of a star, they too
would fuse and rage,
and even volcanic
glass and char,

and the cold seas,
and even    
what we once were
might burn again—
or in the heart.

More by James Richardson

Essay on the One Hand and on the Other

Consider the palms. They are faces,
eyes closed, their five spread fingers
soft exclamations, sadness or surprise.
They have smile lines, sorrow lines, like faces.
Like faces, they are hard to read.

Somehow the palms, though they have held my life
piece by piece, seem young and pale.
So much has touched them, nothing has remained.
They are innocent, maybe, though they guess
they have a darker side that they cannot grasp.

The backs of my hands, indeed, are so different
that sometimes I think they are not mine,
shadowy from the sun, all bones and strain,
but time on my hands, blood on my hands—
for such things I have never blamed my hands.

One hand writes. Sometimes it writes a reminder
on the other hand, which knows it will never write,
though it has learned, in secret, how to type.
That is sad, perhaps, but the dominant hand is sadder,
with its fear that it will never, not really, be written on.

They are like an old couple at home. All day,
each knows exactly where the other is.
They must speak, though how is a mystery,
so rarely do they touch, so briefly come together,
now and then to wash, maybe in prayer.

I consider my hands, palms up. Empty, I say,
though it is exactly then that they are weighing
not a particular stone or loaf I have chosen
but everything, everything, the whole tall world,
finding it light, finding it light as air.

Metamorphosis

The week after you died, Mom,
you were in my checkout line,
little old lady who met my stare
with the fear, the yearning
of a mortal chosen by a god,
feeling herself change
painfully cell by cell
into a shadow, a laurel, you, a constellation.

Related Poems

Haymaking

'Tis haytime and the red-complexioned sun
Was scarcely up ere blackbirds had begun
Along the meadow hedges here and there
To sing loud songs to the sweet-smelling air
Where breath of flowers and grass and happy cow
Fling o'er one's senses streams of fragrance now
while in some pleasant nook the swain and maid
Lean o'er their rakes and loiter in the shade
Or bend a minute o'er the bridge and throw
Crumbs in their leisure to the fish below
—Hark at that happy shout—and song between
'Tis pleasure's birthday in her meadow scene.
What joy seems half so rich from pleasure won
As the loud laugh of maidens in the sun?