In the time of childhood summers, our forsythia hedge was
a golden fountain, yellow spumes spraying in the breeze.
Home to goldfinch, refuge to wren, my hideaway
hedge was a tangled boundary between neighbors.
Under the byre of flowers I named things and read books,
Pondered clouds floating through latticed branches.
Watched my mother in her wild gardens, planting riots of
tiger lilies, poppies, spearmint, and yarrow,
coreopsis, daffodils, hostas and sage.
Throughout time the forsythia was always beside
the grassy driveway in our neighbor’s yard. A set piece
caught in grainy home video or sepia daguerreotype, under surveillance
in a witch’s smoky crystal ball or God’s golden telescope:
Brick walkway with grass shocks bristling from sandy cracks;
twin boxwoods crouching like fat green bears;
Japanese wasps thick as a monkey thumbs dive bombing the stoop.
Giant willow tree, radiant yellow blossoms like stars on switches.
By June the forsythia was always a tsunami of blossoms,
swooned by pollen-drunk tiger swallowtails, papilio glacus
hailing from the noble order of Lepidoptera.
On summer nights in splintered shadows of my byre, I became a
voyeur of mating dances around the yellow bug light on the front porch
entrancing dozens of species for me to classify: sphinx moths
with fighter jet bodies, owlet, gypsy and lichen moths,
prehistoric caddisfiles–the gnarly Trichoptera–wings bristling with hairs,
larvae cases built from rolled leaves and bark, twigs and tiny stones.
I was a secret pupa, cocoon of bloom, awaiting
elegant whispers of the luna, julep violas of wings,
coat tails quivering on the screen door
before Mother calls me home.
Fleeting fireflies of thoughts, little and big, big and little.
How far is the next nearest star? Proxima Centauri is 25 trillion miles.
When do turtles sleep? How do you make pokeberry ink,
sassafras tea, dandelion wine? Could Jesus walk on Timberlake? Do
Russian kids have bomb shelters? In my moonlit womb
listening to tree frogs and cicadas sing a forsythia serenade.
Time was, I learned other things. There were more things to name:
aria. ideologue. cordite. napalm. blogspot. vulva. jackal. terrorism. formaldehyde.
rehab. synthesizer. resection. cancer. anastomosis. cosmos. sestina. volta.
kike. apartheid. high-rise. hip-hop. ghetto. torture. machine. electoral. deadlock.
dreadlock. crucifix. addiction. warplane. tombstone. radiation. tectonic. ganglion.
The time was New Year’s Day 2005 about 4 p.m., 58 degrees,
sun darting behind clouds like a man with his hair on fire at a masquerade.
My mother was watching the cock-a-poo sniff the grass beside the brick walk.
I can imagine her sitting there in the lounge chair at 86 worried about
the man in the house with a broken hip and clouded mind.
Unexpected blurring of vision, sudden fist slam
of heart collapsing, rush of synapses,
as she stands up, wobbles, then in slow slow slow motion
floats like a shocked moth into the forsythia
dying dying dead cradles in tangled branches, wrapped in
wicked switches, waving medusa whips closing in upon her.
For 1000 days of paralysis .
Its branches grew prodigiously.
It spread like a virus, a voodoo vine, a cursed undergrowth
unhindered now it was elevated and consecrated as a shrine.
How could such sacred memoriam be disturbed?
No more to do so than kick over tombstones, piss
in the chalice, poison the barley, spray-paint the crypt?
And there it grew within me. I wrestled with vermin
and bourbon, neglect and anathema, blasted and bane
bad son neglecting the home place and abandoning
the vineyard, talents rotting in the firmament.
I could neither uproot it nor tend it,
magic devil plant wrapped itself inside me,
adhesions of scar tissue, ligatures and knots
engorging, invasive, choking.
Last Sunday I saw the neighbor who tried to revive her
He and I have had words and have few words.
I said, “John, it’s time and dig that thing out.”
I was not there when he chain sawed the trunks and
gouged out the roots. But the next day
there was a rugged raw patch of brown dirt
and suddenly I saw golden fountains of blossoms erupt
like fireworks and I was a little boy in shorts and a
striped t-shirt, chasing a puppy with a stick, and she
was painting beside the burnt orange poppies, looking over
her shoulder and smiling, a wisp of ineffable concern crossing
her face like clouds shrouding the sun, she turns away
and day turns to night, lights fade and stars come out
by the millions and so do fireflies swirling in helixes
covering the great willow like Christmas lights
and from my safe hearth under abiding limbs
I watch as a beautiful luna detaches gently from the house, lifting
its wings beyond the porch light, boxwoods and cedars, fluttering
up a pathway of light toward the moon and I hear
crickets, cicadas and tree frog singing, singing to the
heavens, a forsythia serenade.
~ Craig Shaffer
January 30, 2008