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Two Poems


       In memoriam Emily Carlson

After we'd redivided
Gaul into twenty-three parts,
our seventh-grade Latin class
in sandals and off-white togas
threw a convivium.

Over the fried chicken
our haruspex announced the signs
as bene, bene, bene,
so we pitched and proved
we could conjugate, decline,
and define some verbs and nouns
sometimes almost as well
as Miss Emily Carlson.

All fall she'd listened to us
mumble and mispronounce
with a set smile on her face
and at least one eye half closed
behind thick horn-rim glasses.
We failed her, and she passed us.

She believed we were carrying on
some semiclassical
tradition, if not for her sake,
for our own, that at least a few
of the radices she'd watered
in our poor soil wouldn't shrivel
but would finally rise and shine.

When all our games were over
and after she'd handed out
the small edulis prizes,
wrapped and trimmed and inscribed
with her own neat, careful digits,
she shouted toward the ceiling
an exclamatio
and fell down on the floor
and began to shake, shudder,
and jitter the whole length
of her gray dress, her mouth
uttering through white foam
untranslatable words,
then died post meridiem.
Oh sunt lacrimae rerum.

Your Tree

When you've chosen it, the one
you want to chop down
and trim to its essentials
and haul away and slice
          to pieces, the forest will wait
          around you, well aware
          of what you're doing. It knows
          competition, light and shade,
and won't interfere
as you pause there
where the roots go underground,
where the solid trunk begins,
          to calculate where your chain saw
          should make its way through bark,
          phloem, cambium, xylem,
          and into heartwood. Your tree
will hold still
while you make the undercut
and may even take for granted
you have some kind of reason
          for what you've chosen to do,
          but if you decide too far
          ahead of time which way
          you're going to start running
when your tree gives in
to gravity, when it begins
losing its firm hold
on the balance of nature,
          when it shudders and hesitates
          and tilts and twists oddly,
          it may surprise you
          with an unpredictable swivel
being determined by
asymmetrical branches
in a direction you couldn't foresee
or foretell, no matter how long
          or hard you tried, and bring you
          down to earth along
          with it as just another
          renewable resource.

David Wagoner

After the Point of No Return
Copper Canyon Press

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