The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Alice Friman
Five Gold Leaves
The end of November
and the last leaves of the maple
cling to the bare stick that has become their tree.
Tomorrow they’ll be gone. The letting-go time
over, the jostling struggle for light done.
Here in this hidden corner of the world
shaded by the deck’s overhang
where wasps nurture their threat
and the argiope buys time and groceries
for her wheel, here
five rags gleam like solitaires
on jeweler’s cloth: the final display
October promised in its whispering
on the way down. I watch
from my bedroom window, marveling
at the hardiness of these orphans—
their obscure radiance—and wonder
if Emerson’s claim that Nature always wears
the color of the spirit is correct.
Aren’t these leaves supposed to reflect
what I feel? Not shimmy in their golden
graveclothes, shoving their bravura in my face.
The Red Oxalis
I have transplanted the oxalis—
new soil, new pot, new window.
Outside, with all the rain, blue
heaven drips gray, and what glory
there is will have to begin here.
Each day I inspect the dirt,
feel with my finger, measuring
need or not for water, concentrate
on the buried rhizomes, blood-colored
and fat as summer caterpillars—
fat to bursting. Oh, to be
so about-to-be, so full of Watch!
Any minute now. Why, one might
be driven to drive a knife
into the gleaming heart of hope
that’s dangled before us, preening
in its virtue clothes, offering
its stingy cup
to know that here, not
somewhere else, but here
stirs recompense awake at last.
The pot sits on the sill, soaking up
what little light there is. A pot
of stemless, leafless dirt from which
red shoots, like bawling newborn souls,
will rise from nothing but good black earth,
black as the magician’s hat that teases
with its emptiness before it explodes in a flurry
of crimson scarves and real live birds.
Red blood cells are marrow made,
not in the long leg bones—they’ve
other things to do—but in the flats of breast bone
and clavicle, close to the heart. Pumped up
for oxygen delivery and trash pickup, those rubies
can service an entire body in twenty seconds—
faster than it takes a stranger to give advice or a cut
onion make you cry. Imagine the jostling
through narrow channels, red flags flying, the bumping
to comandeer a wharf. A whole Russian fleet
surging inside you, and you
limp as a rag in a bucket
with your habitual sighs as if you wandered
deep in a gorge on a donkey’s back—downcast lids,
chin to chest, unable to appreciate a rosy tinge of sky
if your life depended on it
while the red cells,
too busy for nonsense, circumnavigate the body
like wind-up Magellans, taking less than a second
to lap at the lungs, absorbing on the run, then another
ten to reach your bottom. Why, but to keep you
on that donkey’s back, to steady you straight and up,
not tipped into a ravine of nettles and broken legs which,
as I said, have other things to do, hugging those shaggy sides,
thighs gripping in earnest.
It was the sun’s opening shot,
and if there were pines or moss-
covered rocks or if nature
boasted beauty in any other form,
she seemed determined to keep
it secret—so busy she was,
disguised in glare.
We had come to see the lake.
We squinted, shaded our eyes,
but saw nothing in the metallic
blast. No boat, no fisherman,
no shore reflected in the hard
lapping of gleam. No cove
to row to and stop.
Maybe it was then
we heard the loon’s contempt, laughing
behind his chink in the blinding wall.
We had come too far together
to be groping now. What was left for us
but to reach out a hand and touch.
Instead, we stood there, afraid.
Driving like Jerry
My father drove, straddling
the center line. White line, broken
line, double yellow. No difference.
Forget yelps from the back seat or Mother’s
stony silence. Forget honkings, curses,
sirens. All those tickets. That line was his:
the keel of his pleasure, his compass, his North.
Where he grew up, there were no lines,
just quiet country roads. But when he hit
the city, the city hit him back: taxis,
garbage trucks, crosstown buses and all
those long-legged girls in little French heels
to pay attention to. Of that center line,
that line of Do Not Cross? Not for him.
To him, life was simple. Work like a plug
fourteen hours a day. Battle the world
for every grudging drop of dignity you get.
Then bathe on Sunday and slick your hair.
There’s that double stripe running down
the middle of the road, the highway’s zipper.
Pull out the choke, open the throttle, and ride it.
Even in his late eighties when he’d lose track
of where he was, he’d wrap his four tires
around that galloping streak as if it were
a thoroughbred running the Belmont Stakes,
sure that if he held tight and rode the line
long enough, followed it long enough,
it would take him down the straightaway,
past two lights, a left at the drugstore,
and around the corner for home.
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