Robert C. Knox
I am a husband, father, rabid backyard gardener, and blogger on nature, books, films and other subjects based on the premise that there's a garden metaphor for everything. Still utopian and idealistic after all these years, I cover the arts for the Boston Globe's 'South' regional section. "My poems have been published recently by The Poetry Superhighway, Semaphore Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, These and other journals. "Suosso's Lane," my recently published novel about the Sacco-Vanzetti case, is available at www.Web-e-Books.com.
In the childhood lands of western Long Island
we never knew such places existed.
Brownsville, city of churches and candy stores,
of painters trained on a more exacting continent,
glossing the dachas of the apparatchiks,
bagels wondrously round like love-tokens of tightly-wound dough
unlike the soft blown-up pool toys
of a later day in loose, indulgent, big-diner Suffolk County.
City too of sudden accidents, fatal mistakes.
A sister, then a mother;
A moveable childhood ensued, a stay among the better-off
in a high-hedged manse far beyond a city's outskirts,
somewhere perhaps among its jewelry drawers,
then back to a head-strong father
who went to the movies every night
in the days before the Dodgers won a pennant,
before the Japanese were exiled to camps,
lights doused along the shoreline while
U-boats hunted among the easy targets of American shipping.
Then activist postwar days of rallying to Paul Robeson concerts,
campaigning for Wallace,
sneaking into Tanglewood clad daringly in shorts,
having found a husband at the Young Communist League,
already a veteran but still the baby of the family,
who suffered an inflamed conscience over leaving his mother.
A Spartan wedding; a place of your own in the projects
inducing a fertile run of children uncomfortably close in age,
unlike the carefully spaced Episcopalian children
of some other New York.
Yours a union of night-school scholars:
years of tired homework at the kitchen table.
Degreed, a late-starting career launched in fostering
the kindergarten sensibilities of lives spent close to the floor,
while an upward trend at home opens the Palisades in a sunset window.
And you, a woman of principles named school principal,
resigning some years later, in protest of a bureaucratic bump,
to study art at the Metropolitan.
Decades roll alongside the Hudson.
Student of Mannerists, also of manors, Tanglewood Friend;
vacation home a modest estate (summers only) you called a "tree house,"
set in a greenwood village
surrounding a bowl of good fortune, idyllic skies, occasional boomers
that chased the cat beneath the bed
and set the cat-owner to worried pacing.
Stages of age, arthritis, the usual reductions;
doctored Manhattan-centric on gentility and denial,
stiffened by a brave foretelling:
the celebration of that milestone of the far-fields,
the peak experience, matured in the burnished gold
of time's reflections.
A ninth decade accomplished:
a century to come.
Out for a ride, a mated pair on a joy ride,
parsing contentedly the vineyards and strawberry festivals,
sun shining, consuming the countryside with our eyes.
At the big party my cousin, the sole octogenarian, two years recovered
from an attack of mortality while driving,
the senior of our cohort: eighty in the shade
till he moves his chair to sit alone in the sun,
like a prison island captive.
Also, my snowbird cousin whose son ages in the Keys
like fine wine or old cheese,
lacking all desire to bring a child into "this world."
Here's wishing you a better one next time;
send us a card.
Back home, companionable pairs walk and talk
on a happy afternoon while I lay low, weeding in the weeds.
Twice two women, conversing at ease.
Then a boy-girl combo in actual, live conversation (mirabile dictu!);
he mostly, her replies inaudible
while her timbre, the shy tremble of inflection
their passage an effect
of the same root stirring
that has me pulling up weeds and misdirected saplings
(no new oaks permitted between the weigela and the many-fingered
'Gracillimus,' slender leaves lifted to heaven)
while souls pass by.
I have my maiden grass;
they the wilder country.
As A Tree
Tannish tassels smudging the plants,
bedecking leaves like off-color tinsel,
a plague of dust tarnishing the green.
Mannish flowers these, gifts of the oak,
a thing made all of secrets.
You never see it sleep, or shout, or breathe, or blow, or natter
or rumble, or do anything.
The wind 'does.' The birds leap and shout.
Leaves appear. Branches fall.
Catkins parachute softly in the spring,
a daring raid behind enemy lines; success assured by numbers.
The oak is ever that which is, not that which shows
in its becoming.
It is always being a tree.
Surely we all have heard this moralized explanation of 'giving' --
these theatrically magical seeds
these time-lapse photographs of 'stages':
the seedling with the corny hat, a sproutling, a slender sapling (like a boy with a bat),
branches that shoot outward like crosses
held against the terrors of a world of fire, seething winds, clinging ice,
quaking thunder, shaking earth.
Time passes through the tree.
It perseveres in thereness, wise in the way of treeing.
We encounter, witness, regard, visit,
become what we will, in our endless evolutions.
The oak always was what it will be
whenever I behold it: then is now.
© 2017 Robert C. Knox
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