The poinsettias at the Southview Baptist Church
looked so alive they seemed fake,
the crepe paper red of the upper leaves
startled the eye, the deep green leaves
absorbed so much light you’d think they were velvet.
Does Texas grow them more wild, more vividly
than elsewhere? They had a lot of sass,
Shining out glory in the dusty halfdark.
After the tent revival music,
after the tearful had been called to the altar
and everyone had been greeted
in the name of the Lord,
I crept timidly to the front. I had to feel it
with my fingertips to satisfy my mind.
I wanted to know if they were real.
Me and the sheets and a quilt.
The quiet. The lamplight
to each of you: know that
you are the stones that sit in the river of my heart
and not the water rushing around them,
you are the trees that grow along its banks
and not the leaves on the trees,
you are the beaten tracks that girdle those old hills
and not the pilgrims.
because you are not the leaves, the water, or the wanderers,
I can say your names without malice or hurt
merely tracing the landscape of this soft place,
my habits and my hurts.
wait in line behind the house,
if we hold our breath,
no one will see us, not much,
but we can see them.
the flocked dam of birds
bursts wide when I glance upward
each dawn by the gate.
running between rails,
a small strip of unmolested snow.
don’t let them take it away from you
this ribbon shining and blank
perhaps the only continuous, innocent line
in the whole filthy city
kindred to the scraps of purity
gathered on the tops of the streetlights
on the windowsill where any moment
a pigeon may light with its foul claws
and leave some defilement
along the brims of officer caps
before they turn in from the night beat
to drip themselves dry.
the moon glares fiercely on this town tonight.
next door the uninhabited stack house bears it sullenly,
with her skirts gathered close around her
against the pale fire of snows in league with the light.
what does it matter how gathered in or self-contained she seems,
when two days from now her roof will suddenly give up the ghost,
when a month from now the city will attempt to locate
the owner, believed to be living elsewhere, someplace south,
when a year from now a demolition crew will raze it
and the snows will come again with nothing upon which to settle
but the dead grass, the dozer tracks and a bent beer can,
when tonight a man lays down with a woman
in a heap of blankets in what used to be the dining room
the air around them shimmering with shared knowledge
and unspoken alliance against the unknown.
none of us pay
as much attention to the wind
as the swaying trees.