Excerpts from My Son Likes Weather
Each of its ten fluted cups opened from the single thick stalk.
The first released its perfume like a blow,
taking the breath away;
the second opened gradually, its odor slowly seeping into the room.
By the time the third flower had unfolded
I was dizzy from the sickening sweetness,
blinded by the whiteness of the forms.
For a few days, nothing more happened;
then the others began to bloom and to wither, one after one.
I didn't pluck any from the stem
but left each to hold its place in the cycle of lily:
the delicate fragrance of the newborns mingling
with the sour scent of dried lily-milk on the fully opened blossoms.
Everything there, in a green plastic pot, in the middle of the kitchen table—
the top-heavy shapes loping over the rim,
obscuring the view of my son's bowed head as he eats his breakfast,
the almost imperceptible dying
hovering over it all.
My Son Likes Weather
Any kind of weather.
If you say, It's a beautiful day,
he says, What day isn't?
He likes to look through his window at the arc of trees—
he sleeps on the sunporch, so he can wake to trees—
and he doesn't mind when the view is fogged over:
he's happy it will rain, afterwards the earth
will bulge with mushrooms.
That pear looks nice, he says when he comes into the kitchen.
He's not hungry, he's talking about the fruit ripening on the sill,
he says he likes the way the morning light
falls on its bumpy contours,
making it look like the face of an old person.
He likes the crackle of leaves under his feet in the fall;
in winter, he likes to crunch the skin of ice
just beginning to form on puddles
and walk city pavements lined with snow,
even old snow with its blackened crust.
He likes the in-between, the days
that are neither blue nor gray,
the long afternoons when you sense something—
the season, or perhaps something else—
is about to end.
Let's go for a walk, he'll say then,
let's go to the garden.
I was afraid.
I had been awake all night thinking about the warnings.
Thinking about being so far from my son, only twelve years old,
unable to get to him in time.
I went walking in the woods.
I walked and walked,
and the leaves were yellow and the leaves were red,
and I gathered some red and yellow ones and a few still green,
and talked aloud to myself, keeping myself company.
Under a huge maple tree, I stopped to sort them,
choosing them, one by one,
making a bundle to fill my arms.
Then holding them against my chest, I continued on.
I came upon another walker, the only other person I'd seen that day,
and she was weeping.
When she passed by me, she touched my arm,
riches on riches.
I was almost back at the field near the edge of the woods
when I stopped behind a big rock to pee,
leaving my armful of leaves at the side of the trail.
The rock was only a few meters away, but when I returned
I couldn't find the leaves.
I was distraught, and, even so, I reproached myself for caring,
blamed myself for trying to take so much with me
and for still wanting to, nevertheless.
And I remembered my son's face
and the light wet touch on my arm.
He Is Almost Old Enough to Be Taken
I was staring into the eyes of a teenage soldier,
unable to turn away,
when Abby, not yet two, crawled into my lap,
and blocked my view of the TV.
He opened his arms as wide as he could,
encircling my chest,
and pressed his warm face into my breastbone.
This would not be the last time
he would read my face for signs of fear.
The war ended.
Some years passed, another began.
Today he is sixteen. I stand on tiptoe
to kiss his cheek.
He doesn't squirm, but his arms
remain awkward at his sides.
I walk the rim of the garden
around and around, like a monk in meditation.
The princess tree drops its purple flowers.
They fall on my head and shoulders.
My boy is inside the house,
watching through the window.
I glimpse his face each time I turn the corner.
They have not told us when this war will end.
I am no monk, but I try for faith.
I fight back my fear
of the evil eye—the force that threatens
whatever one loves best.
I keep walking, my feet crushing petals,
pressing them back into the ground.
My eyes are lowered
but when I pass the window
I cannot help but steal another glance.
Each petal returned to earth
is a talisman.
With every step, my feet say Stay.
What Is Unsaid
After Ezra Pound's version of a poem by Li-Po
The river-merchant has been gone almost half a year—
long enough to break his young wife's heart.
So she writes him a letter and sends it downriver
with the birdcalls and the fallen leaves.
Does it reach him? The poet doesn't say; in truth,
he doesn't even say she has sent it—he just leaves us
with the letter, still wet with ink, in her hand.
Perhaps she doesn't send it, perhaps she trusts her words
will be carried by the force of love alone.
Or perhaps she knows the words themselves
are unnecessary. We are not told
what comes next for the river-merchant and his wife
though the blue plums must be ripening in Chokan,
the leaves budding, then yellowing, then falling,
falling all the while the birds skitter on the still-warm branches,
arguing and singing, keeping each other company.
Sitting at the window, watching the bamboo grow,
the small bells of the orange-lantern tree ringing with wind,
the trumpet vines clasping their red against the gray-blue sky,
and my son, at my side,
reading the American poet's rendition of the Chinese poem,
turning to tell me he finds it moving
but he's bothered that the American poet stole it
from a time and place not his own,
I say, We all live in borrowed time
and as for place, none of it belongs
to any of us.
His long-fingered hands turn the page,
his fine hair falls over his eyes.
It will not be long before he leaves.
And I don't say, We lay our claims,
we lay claim to what is not ours, nonetheless.
© Marcia Lee Falk.