Image of shelter


"Flowers in Loving Memory of Bessie Huidekoper Fay"

National Symphony Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, February 18, 2000
César Franck, Symphony in D Minor

You must dream still
of the quiet of the hothouse --
the moist rich soil, the humid air.
Of feeling so clearly in your petals
the sun's warmth,
the ages of the night's distant stars,
the hopes and sorrows of the immigrant gardeners --
sensing not the stars' composite gases
or the language of the gardeners' thoughts,
but their substance, their beauty,
their shape and color and perfume,
knowing these as effortlessly,
as you knew the primitive desires
of the buzzing flies,
the wiles of spiders
building webs in high corners,
the hunger of the mice scampering
in evening's shadows.

From a seed you grew in blind silence,
ignorant of whatever did not touch
your roots or leaves.
Then you blossomed suddenly
into omniscience
when your petals unfurled
and you found their sensitivity exquisite
beyond man's imagining.
You sensed without trying
the wordless songs of stones
in faraway mountains, the strength
with which gravity pulls at the waters
of rivers, the nighttime creaking of stairs
under the feet of cheating husbands,
the love of parents for children
still in the womb.

Then came your nightmare:
the sharp knife severing,
the cold water of the bucket,
the chill of the florist's refrigerator.
The stab of pain when your stem
was rammed into the bed of spikes
that traps you now in this tableau
of misery --

flowers and fronds dying
here in a hall the sun never brightens.
Where with what remains of your knowing
you can just make out sweeping Romantic melodies
and the joyous blare of trumpets.
You sense -- even now you cannot help it --
the exaggerated grace of the harpist
pulling her hands back from the plucked strings.
You know the polish, the skill
of the stooped-shouldered concertmaster,
the hurry of the French-horn players
upending their instruments to drain,
the lust the lonely cellist dreamed last night
for the handsome oboe player.

But the hot lights, the dry air,
bring on delirium. Sound and color
confuse each other. Your capillaries
constrict, your cells wall
themselves off each from the next
in their last desperation,
and you sense, finally,
that the trombones and the kettle drums --
are playing your funeral dirge, but too fast,
too fast.

An exercise for "Poetry Bootcamp" class, February, 2000


Memorial stone, Bishop's Garden, Washington Cathedral

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