Poem for the Times (indebted to Roald Dahl)

Oh for that fecund time,

devils and angels humping in the swamp,

that felicity and give.

Now we are drained, separating, segregating, purifying

on the verge of flame.

But not yet.

Not all is smoke and red ember, ash dust and weeping.

I take the Toyota for its yearly emissions test,

I sit on an unfinished wooden bench with two men my age who call me “Miss.”

The smog rises on Atlantic Avenue and we talk about the heat.

 

On the way home, a lone pigeon

Plays catch me if you can with my windshield.

This is no time for daredevils, I tell him, deciding he is a he.

Get back to your flock.

Inscribe your circles over apartments and intersections,

Bring them together.

There are those who say the communal revolutions of the birds

Are a means of confounding predators, which could be.

But that does not mean they don’t also keep the planets aligned.

 

Dark wings swooping up and around, silvering as they veer,

Like office papers that day in September,

Flickering between light and shade,

Falling from a clear blue sky soon to blur and reek

of singed wire and flesh. Now it’s olivine

dropping from the Hawaiian heavens.

 

Once upon a time in the White House, lived a nice man who played by the rules of school,

Now there’s a nasty one who follows the rules of the alley.

But sometimes schools are alleys, and alleys schools, and they both

can’t help but exist, along with circuses and traffic jams,

Farms and liverwurst factories, suntan lotions, iphones,

Plastic toys that scrape the soles of your feet,

And send curses into the universe.

 

My nine year old daughter trembles, sobbing.

She has fallen into the idea of innocence,

And wishes we were born to a less tarred species,

Or at least an earlier version,

Before cities and slaves, agriculture and climate change.

Back when we swang from the branches of trees and delighted in the taste of grubs.

I, too, find property clunky and ridiculous.

I, too, would like to fling my tail at the fates, lob coconuts for the fun of it.

I remind her of her friend Nicolette, the possibility of wind power, the tang of mango.

How could that miraculous fruit land so sweet on our tongues if we didn’t belong here too?

 

Come mangos, grow global, make a big one, larger than the Death Star,

alight on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sop up that lump of gilt and dust in your sticky nectar,

As the giant peach once gave James’s aunts their just desserts

in a book my mother read me as a child.

 

She turned seventy-five in June.

I flew out to California to celebrate

My cheek to the cold airplane window,

Watching the cloud shadows wisp and morph on

The stark geometry of Kansas, broken by the Rockies.

 

Mourn not what has passed, I said to myself.

It returns, in its way,

as the sun on the mountain, the snow in July,

The metal wing of my plane, slicing through the blue.

Trust in the amniotic sea,

newts and bugs that walk on the water

Birds hatched in hidden caves, blinking and wobbly

Tendered in the benevolent haze of a fresh dawn.

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