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Heart’s Needle

In full regalia, the pheasant cocks

march past their dubious hens;

the porcupine and the lean, red fox

trot around bachelor pens

and the miniature painted train

wails on its oval track:

you said, I'm going to Pennsylvania!

and waved. And you've come back.

If I loved you, they said, I'd leave

and find my own affairs.

Well, once again this April, we've

come around to the bears;

punished and cared for, behind bars,

the coons on bread and water

stretch thin black fingers after ours.

And still you are my daughter.

The Last Time

Three years ago, one last time, you forgot

Yourself and let your hand, all gentleness,

Reach to my hair, slipping down to caress

My cheek, my neck. My breath failed me; I thought

It might all come back yet, believed you might

Turn back. You turned, then, once more to your own

Talk with that young man for whom you'd shown,

In front of all our friends, such clear delight

All afternoon. And you recalled the long

Love you had held for me was changed. You threw

Both arms around him, kissed him, and then you

Said you were ready and we went along.

April Inventory

The green catalpa tree has turned

All white; the cherry blooms once more.

In one whole year I haven't learned

A blessed thing they pay you for.

The blossoms snow down in my hair;

The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.

The sleek, expensive girls I teach,

Younger and pinker every year,

Bloom gradually out of reach.

The pear tree lets its petals drop

Like dandruff on a tabletop.

The girls have grown so young by now

I have to nudge myself to stare.

This year they smile and mind me how

My teeth are falling with my hair.

In thirty years I may not get

Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.

The tenth time, just a year ago,

I made myself a little list

Of all the things I'd ought to know,

Then told my parents, analyst,

And everyone who's trusted me

I'd be substantial, presently.

I haven't read one book about

A book or memorized one plot.

Or found a mind I did not doubt.

I learned one then forgot.

And one by one the solid scholars

Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.

And smile above their starchy collars.

I taught my classes Whitehead's notions;

One lovely girl, a song of Mahler's.

Lacking a source-book or promotions,

I showed one child the colors of

A luna moth and how to love.

I taught myself to name my name,

To bark back, loosen love and crying;

To ease my woman so she came,

To ease an old man who was dying.

I have not learned how often I

Can win, can love, but choose to die.

I have not learned there is a lie

Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;

That my equivocating eye

Loves only by my body's hunger;

That I have forces true to feel,

Or that the lovely world is real.

While scholars speak authority

And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,

My eyes in spectacles shall see

These trees procure and spend their leaves.

There is a value underneath

The gold and silver in my teeth.

Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,

We shall afford our costly seasons;

There is a gentleness survives

That will outspeak and has its reasons.

There is a loveliness exists,

Preserves us, not for specialists.

Sitting Outside

These lawn chairs and the chaise lounge

of bulky redwood were purchased for my father

twenty years ago, then plumped down in the yard

where he seldom went when he could still work

and never had stayed long. His left arm

in a sling, then lopped off, he smoked there or slept

while the weather lasted, watched what cars passed,

read stock reports, counted pills,

then dozed again. I didn’t go there

in those last weeks, sick of the delusions

they still maintained, their talk of plans

for some boat tour or a trip to the Bahamas

once he’d recovered. Under our willows,

this old set’s done well: we’ve sat with company,

read or taken notes—although the arm rests

get dry and splintery or wheels drop off

so the whole frame’s weakened if it’s hauled

across rough ground. Of course the trees,

too, may not last: leaves storm down,

branches crack off, the riddled bark

separates, then gets shed. I have a son, myself,

with things to be looked after. I sometimes think

since I’ve retired, sitting in the shade here

and feeling the winds shift, I must have been filled

with a child dread you could catch somebody’s dying

if you got too close. And you can’t be too sure.