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.
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
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.