The Agonist Journal

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,
   Demanding revolution;
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.