Goldenrod back east

Goldenrod

Goldenrod – it’s familiar to anyone who lives in the East, where it blooms late summer when the hayfields go brown. Today, it’s just starting to bloom in North Florida.

When I moved back to New England in summer, 2011 after a few years out west, goldenrod was one of the many elements of the Eastern landscape that were achingly familiar to me. As summer turned to autumn, I wrote a crown of sonnets, which became the title poem of a collection.

Back East

 

I.

Out West, I heard the phrase back East in tones

expressing every angle, every shade

reflected in the family prism: warm

red longing for the hearth, the reflex back

to what’s familiar, followed by obtuse

refusals, diluted yellow wistfulness,

or upright judgment paired with violet

nostalgia, straight-out breaks from what was done,

acute resentment toward the say-so

of parents pairing culture with discipline,

sustenance with table manners, shelter

with chores, and who say nothing valuable,

or even earnest, who impress their threats

on us: You leave, you can’t come home again.

 

II.

Whoever said you can’t come home again

was wrong. I’ve slipped in place back East like one

more river stone. Surfacing, a beaver

dog-paddles, torso flat and long.

She curls her spine and dives. Her broad tail smoothes

the tannic stream behind her like a mother’s

hand soothes passage. Midsummer: fields

of milkweed nod, pink before they pod;

The Monarchs reconnoiter, back again

to feed and mate and scout out homes for eggs.

The farm pond’s little boatmen dip their insect

oars and skim along, enough to make

the water glint. The osprey dives then rises,

gold clutched in his claws, the gold that swam

too near the line between the air and water.

 

III.

Too near the line between the air and water,

low clouds bluff and plump, collaging shades

of bruise and white and gray. Then rain sheets.

Before I know it, goldenrod tassels

yellow, brimming over green, the arc

of time as I recall it – thrumming summers

interrupted by synaptic longings

back to chilling snows. The twilit meadow

blurs its colors as if on purpose, as age

blurs imperfections, my image in the mirror

less well-defined than ever, less intriguing.

Gauzy threads of cirrus, backlit by

a gibbous moon, form gaps, framing now

and then a star, once I spot the first.

 

IV.

And then, like stars, once I spot the first

collect of ash leaves yellowing, I see

the turning everywhere, the sumac pinnates

tipped with orange, sugar maple palmates

edged with red — familiar, slow crescendo

toward October. Downhill, merlins flap

around a long-dead tree, then perch to spy

on kingbirds. Even with such names, they’re barred

from what’s between us – the briefly living – and

our fiery, dying sun. The Mourning Cloaks

feast on windfall apples, rotting sweet

and brown, as winds blow from the South, unsettled,

caressing us like volatile parents.

All night, their thunders wake us; rains lull us.

V.

All night, the thunder wakes us; rain lulls us

back to sleep. Repeat. The morning forest

drips crystals, leaf tips drenched and sparkling,

this bright illusion glossing ironies

of evergreens that brown and die like all

of us back east. The leaf-mold footpath sponges

underfoot, instant karmic mushrooms

reincarnate up through amber needles.

The crickets start their songs at noon as if

to cram time full: their manic chirps

resound like nextweeknextweeknextweek; they

predict the killing shards, the silver frosts.

Each funeral, a funeral for all

of us. Winter waits, the parents know.

 

VI.

The winter waits, a parent knowing we’ll

come home. October vapors silk above

the stream, miming ghosts and veils. The forest

floor, a wreck of branches after storms,

mocks our broken family trees. The row

of maples, cicatrized by sugaring,

stands witness roadside: nothing sweet is gleaned

without some cost.  Escape, impossible,

from autumn’s litany: fertility

brings loss, precedes decay.  November smacks

of fractals, stripped to spines and ribs and scars.

The last leaves spiral down in yellow, buff,

and ochre-red; winds lift them up to spin

like dervishes collecting spirits of the dead.

 

 

VII.

Like dervishes in flight from spirits of the dead,

we spin from South to North, from East to West,

a nomad race of animals condemned

to thinking we can torque the angles of

perspective, paint with undiscovered colors.

Our range is vast but finite: infrared

to ultraviolet, and zero to

three- sixty. The gold-tipped chrysalides have split,

the milkweed pods have split; a hundred seeds,

each with its hundred threads of silk, have left

or stayed.  Downhill, the long dead tree still stands;

a raptor lands like ash, and shifts her feet.

She turns her head in profile toward the wind,

the west we make our wishes on back east.

2 thoughts on “Goldenrod back east

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