A Withered Tree
What form that we have found, in time,
To give to time shape of what stands
Outside of time as does a rhyme
Outside a verse’s measured bands
Is all that we were looking for,
As once we know it, we shall see
Its figure give out ever more
The splendor that it is to be.
And say we had just swept away
All that was found by those before,
Just to allow a freer play
To our desires, and nothing more.
Yes, say we had. Indeed, we did,
And stand in arid poverty,
Our anguished gestures vain amid
A furrowed field with withered tree.
The world’s so cruel now, they say,
That someone be strung up or shot
Is the usual solution.
The broken backs of myriads
Have paved the walks of the great;
So, topple statues of the dead
To swat the hand of fate.
The books shelved in the library
Have caused us ourselves to spurn;
Set them out in the rain to rot
And all their words unlearn.
When paradise does not arrive
Despite bone piled on bone
The revolution must turn at last
But to devour its own.
It comes as well for those who plead
For thought and beauty, of course,
Their decadent pleasure garden flattened
By the blunt boot of force.
But, nonetheless, those who would make
Or savor some good thing
Must carry on as if at leisure
Until the tiger spring.
The Polish girls in Cicero
Pinched their babushka knots,
As the cold wind blew through
Brick alleys and bare lots.
They pinched them tighter still
When boys came whistling by
And kept their faces lowered
To sign what they’d deny.
The walkup stairs would creak
As they returned at dusk
To pad the chops in flour
And part corn from its husk.
They’ll dream of Canfield’s soda
While sitting in the night,
A needle pushed, then rising,
To darn their torn socks tight.
I know such days are over,
Where manners spoke unsaid,
And want, pain, fear, deep longing
Worked themselves out in thread.
But they’re the lasting figures
My mother’s memory taught
For all such silent passions
That can—if just—be wrought.