Colors come as a shock.
Pink garnet, hematite, green epidote.
Agate, the jewels’ blood.
is gemstone, not dumb rock,
and what we took for dun-
dusted utility—construction grade,
anonymous as mud—
is scaled-down jade.
Like reliquary stone,
it venerates remains:
foraminifera in starch-stiff curls,
puff-bodied, spiculed rays,
Silly to call them grains
as if a summer acre
busheled them, cut and dried, the season’s yield.
These need the ocean’s pace—
decades laid down like nacre,
Drawn to this intimate view,
we’re pressed to think in eons: glacial crush
that ground scree and moraine,
and river rush
boiling the stone stew
down to a settled thing.
So brokenness, shivered from what it was,
reduced again, again,
till it seemed to us
not worth our focusing,
falls into focus, strong,
million-powered beneath the microscope.
A child with a paper cup
builds on the sand. What has borne up so long
will bear her up.
Reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
to Peter, Aged Three
Machine-mad imp, he’ll seize
the same book always, pull the quilt up close,
and wait. Braced now above his dreamworld’s pools
I dive into my alto range
for Mike and Mary Anne—
yet in the plunge
know it was smoke and ash
already, this world sketched in crayon-brights,
before my own first child-eyed sight of it.
Someone in 1939—
that time when newsreel worlds
drew up from memory
building-block cities, spotless towns,
pastel blue skies a child must learn to doubt.
Some pang of longing fixed the form
of worlds I want to hand him,
their sinewave hills
tree- and steeple-lined
and green as myth. What steely truth
turned this into a fable of machines
that conquer men, shovels that race
the sun to the cellar-hole
that traps us all?
In lull and lilt, I croon
the tale of crankshaft time that grinds
us down to dig the earthworks of our dying.
The pictures lead us kindly on.
And he sits quiet, rapt,
while I sing-song
above his flax-pale hair
the gentle hymn of obsolescence.
In the next room, his father leans and listens.