In the Garden

By Karl Kirchwey

1. A Dagger of Lath

Here is a dagger of lath
hewn from a limb of white pine,
bleeding and resinous.

I found it, a poignard lashed
with common garden twine,
in the chevelure of lawn

where he must have dropped it
after the feint, slash and spin
of imaginary combat.

But where is the tiger of wrath
that waits in everything human?
I have seen that stalk him too,

perplex his feet, cloud his eye,
the mirthless cruelty
that weeps at its own devices.

Quick, I will hide it again.
He must not fall on this blade,
my first-born, my slender one.


2. Weeding

Lawlessly they embroider
the mossed interstices

of every fixed pattern, and
stubbornly, too, whether

mouse-eared chickweed, yarrow or
broad-leafed plantain, until

the shortest way with them is
to dig the bricks out of

their bed of sand with a forked
tool, then strip away the

blind and pulpy mesh of roots
before resettling

the bricks snugly, so that they
rub grainy shoulders with

a kind of music, like that
of a terracotta

wind-chime. What is surprising,
though, is how the day’s warmth

lingers in the white sand, in
each long glazed flank of brick,

even after the sun is
gone, as if the real life

were elsewhere all the time, with
the roots that knew to thrive

away from the light, and you
no closer to knowledge

but having knocked the axis
of the world out of true,

standing in the disordered
garden with night coming on.


3. Faun’s Head

In the jewel-box maculate with gold, in the greenness,
in the uncertain greenness flourishing
with splendid flowers where the kiss dozes,
alive in the exquisite embroidery he is tearing,

he shows his two eyes, a scared faun,
and bites the red flowers with his white teeth.
Burnished and bloody like an old wine,
his lip breaks into laughter in the undergrowth,

and when—like a squirrel—he has fled,
his laugh still trembles on each leaf,
and the golden kiss of the woods, startled
by a bullfinch, you can see commune with itself.

—from the French of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)


4. A Stone Buddha

Buddha’s almost gone in gout-weed.
His left hand’s withered in his lap;

his right hand’s raised in the abhayamudra,
the gesture for dispelling fear.

I turn fifty this year,
with only the callus on my left hand,

and the gods I have lived with, and those I love.
Decently out of his line of vision,

Aphrodite covers her breasts.
A slight breeze moves through the epicene fingers

of fig leaves smelling of restlessness.
A goldfinch teetering on a wire,

thorneater, symbol of the Resurrection,
flies off on a long undulation.

And then a sudden burst of rain
shakes the fifteen umbels of Buddha.

Karl Kirchwey’s fifth book of poems, The Happiness of This World, will be published next January by Marian Wood Books/Putnam’s. He is Associate Professor of the Arts and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Bryn Mawr College.

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