Third Rock from the Sun

- 1952-

That streetlight looks like the slicked backbone
            of a dead tree in the rain, its green lamp blazing
like the first neon fig glowing in the first garden
            on a continent that split away from Africa
from which floated away Brazil. Why are we not
            more amazed by the constellations, all those flung
stars held together by the thinnest filaments
            of our evolved, image making brains. For instance,
here we are in the middle of another Autumn,
            plummeting through a universe that made us
from its shattering and dust, stooping
            now to pluck an orange leaf from the sidewalk,
a small veined hand we hold in an open palm
            as we walk through the park on a weekend we
invented so we would have time to spare. Time,
            another idea we devised so the days would have
an epilogue, precise, unwavering, a pendulum
            strung above our heads.  When was the sun
enough? The moon with its diminishing face?
            The sea with its nets of fish? The meadow’s
yellow baskets of grain? If I was in charge
            I’d say leave them there on their backs
in the grass, wondering, eating berries
            and rolling toward each other’s naked bodies
for warmth, for something we’ve yet to name,
            when the leaves were turning colors in their dying
and we didn’t know why, or that they would return,
            bud and green. One of a billion
small miracles. This planet will again be stone.

A Short History of the Apple

The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through
living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days.
   —Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929


Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve's knees ground in the dirt
of paradise. Newton watching
gravity happen. The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber's bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain's honeybees:
white man's flies. O eat. O eat.

Lake Havasu

Man-made, bejesus hot, patches of sand turned to glass.
Home of Iron Mountain and McCulloch chainsaws.

London Bridge, disassembled, shipped, reassembled.
The white sturgeon stocked, found dead, some lost,
hiding in the depths of Parker Dam. Fifty year-old
monsters, maybe twenty feet long. Lake named

for the Mojave word for blue. Havasu. Havasu.
What we called the sky on largemouth bass days,

striped bass nights, carp, catfish, crappie, razorback,
turtles, stocked, caught, restocked. I stood waist deep
in that dammed blue, and I was beautiful, a life saver
resting on my young hips, childless, oblivious

to politics, to the life carted in and dumped
into the cauldron I swam through, going under,

gliding along the cool sand like a human fish,
white bikini-ed shark flashing my blind side.
We heard a woman died, face down in the sand,
drunk on a 125 degree day. That night we slept

on dampened sheets, a hotel ice bucket on the
bedside table. We sucked the cubes round, slid

the beveled edges down our thighs and spines,
let them melt to pools in the small caves
below our sternums. While you slept beside me
I thought of that woman, her body one long

third degree burn, sweating and turning
under a largo moon, the TV on: seven dead

from Tylenol, the etched black wedge of the
Vietnam Memorial, the Commodore Computer
unveiled, the first artificial heart, just beginning
to wonder if something might be wrong.

Related Poems

The Gardener

Since the phlox are dying
and the daisies with their bright bodies
have shattered in the wind,

I go out among these last dancers,
cutting to the ground the withered asters,
the spent stalks of the lilies, the black rose,

and see them as they were in spring, the time
of eagerness and blossoms, knowing how
they will all sleep and return;

and sweep the dry leaves over them and see
the cold earth take them back as now
I know it is taking me

who have walked so long among them, so amazed,
so dazzled by their brightness I forgot
their distance, how of all

the chosen, all the fallen in the garden
I was different: I alone
could not come again to the world.

from "The Night Side"

Translated from French by Marilyn Hacker

X
Who will tell the sun about my land
my harried medlar tree
my springtime without nervures 
my helpful hand
Who will recount my rootless
garden 
and my door open
to all comers
my night of faraway sounds

my wheat that absorbs
the hours 

Who will cure me
of my sequestration 
and sweet secret
—my monochrome dream

my space gone gray at the temples 
the barter of my frenzy

the slumber at the edge
of my well of fever 

My steppe with an abundance of laughter 
Perhaps it would be enough . . .
But I watch
time passing 

Blackacre

one day they showed me a dark moon ringed

with a bright nimbus on a swirling gray screen

they called it my last chance for neverending life

but the next day it was gone it had already

launched itself into the gray sky like an escape

capsule accidentally empty sent spiraling into the

unpeopled galaxies of my trackless gray body