Ripe plums and the hibiscus

are their swag and nothing

can withstand their slash and wheel.

Like the machine gun and the spiteful neighbor

they repeat and repeat again—

no fist or curse can quell them.

They spend their winters in the earth

and hibernate during the sifting storms,

and what they dream

and what faith moves them

as they awaken I just begin to guess.

There is no legend of this amber shrapnel,


no myth of their beginning.

The late winter days weaken, settling cool

and harmless over the fields.

And then one afternoon

this legion captures the sunlight,

fencing with the hummingbirds they can

kill with a single touch, securing the honeysuckle

without will or theory. When I half-believe

in reincarnation I see how little it takes

to be reborn as these citizens

who rise out of dark stone, and rage.

I broke the ground this afternoon,


heat just coming on, the shadows

without a trace of breeze.

Rooflines and junipers—this was

like the first afternoon ever,

an enduring harbor

for ease and a gardener’s faith.

But their hoarded spite found me,

knew me through my clothing,

x-rayed my serenity and dismissed it.

                                            The blue,

the hillside, the many sycamores

hovered mute behind their swarm.

Now try to forgive, says the harm

they needle, the ink-pain tattoo,

the slap-stun alphabet in their timeless

afterlife of scorn.

—Michael Cadnum

Published in the 2012-05-18 issue: 

Michael Cadnum has published nearly forty books. His new collection of poems, The Promised Rain, is in private circulation. He lives in Albany, California.

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