Heart

For years, her valves inflamed, she lay abed—

rheumatic fever. Games and playmates, banned;

no school; just lessons at her mother’s hand.

At times, she must have wished that she were dead.

There was no treatment then, no hope of cure,

save rest. What irony: a child’s disease,

already noted by Hippocrates.

What recourse had she but endure, endure?

She grew somehow, and managed to excel

in several ways, despite a damaged lung.

Her resolutions: always to stay young;

at work, in love, in friendship, do it well.

Above all, play. She gave it her whole heart.

For seven years she’d thought of it as art.

Aglaonema

A lovely genus, “Chinese Evergreen.”

Mine’s of the mottled sort called Silver Bay

—a little present from my friend Christine.

It has, she noted, feuillage panaché,

bicolored in this case. Set in a pot

of yellow plastic, which it soon outgrew,

transplanted neatly now, it takes its lot

as happy, flourishing as if it knew

it was admired. Don’t mock me out of hand:

if plants emit an ultrasonic scream

when injured; if a heavy-metal band

makes rubber trees recoil, then it would seem

they might respond to our affection, care,

as to vibrations, touch; mimosas live

quite differently, but on the common air

and light, in sentience, as they take and give.

Cells seen by an electron microscope,

men on the moon, and soon perhaps on Mars:

nothing’s so strange that we cannot have hope.

We’ll harness messages among the stars,

collect them, analyze and read their codes,

send back replies in ours; we’ll find the sense

in subtle signals proffered by green modes—

great mysteries, and small, in confluence.

A Call from Porlock

Oh, no, I haven’t taken opium,

nor hashish. And not even alcohol,

so early. But the man from Porlock’s come

(or woman, this time) anyway—a call

by telephone, a modern mode. “Hello,

hello! I tried to get you Saturday.”

(I did not answer then.) A vapid flow

of talk ensues. “Let’s chat.” (Please, go away!)

—A poem’s on my mind, words half in place.

What can I say? It’s better to talk now

and get it over, I suppose. I brace

myself, take off my glasses; yet, somehow,

the mood’s not right. She loves the theater,

the ambiance. What shows she will attend,

or did, the travel, dates—all such recur;

directors, costumes, casting; with which friend;

and where they’ll rendez-vous each night and dine;

her memories of last year, when she met

a famous actor. —I reply, “I’m fine,”

when she inquires. It does no good to fret;

just tune her out, or, rarely, say “Yes, yes.”

Some forty minutes pass, with more details

on plans and past performances. I guess

I should not let myself go off the rails.

To nudge her toward a closure, I remind

her, gently, of the time. “The hours do seem

to fly, don’t you agree?” Not too unkind.

At last, we say goodbye. Back to the dream

that was the poem? But the dream may change.

Attentive to our lapses, time will slip

into disguise, leave changelings, rearrange

an image, play with an emotion, clip

the wings of thought. Poor Coleridge never found

again the interrupted pleasure scene,

the dome, the span of Kubla’s fertile ground.

Yet certainly his inner eye had been

affected. Did the damsel still not sing?

More beautifully perhaps than if he’d heard

without an interval. A pause may bring

new music, or the necessary word.

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