How frosty you are in middle-age,
Sycamore, just as you were in youth,
only more grateful, if weary of the gratitude
it takes to feel alive.
By the time you light your noontime pipe,
‘tweens are waking up to J-pop
and widows aim their Lincoln Towncars home.
The rest of us keep waiting for the end of the world
because we’re pretty sure fried foods are involved.
From Ticonderoga to far Tortuga we’re aching
to know who thinks they can dance,
who’s married in Grant’s Tomb,
what bread tastes best with beets and boursin cheese,
while your claque parses Mahler in the armory-turned-
museum built 12½ degrees off-grid.
A crooked fortress is thine
art. I see that in you.
I see in you the poppies swaying through the wreckage,
milites gloriosi kicking dust storms down your road.
If captured, say you went to the Kroger
to buy sugar for the hummingbirds.
I confess we often thought of you as twee.
Later, when I saw a mason drilling bricks out of a church,
you became to me a Jude considerably less obscure,
like when the Rose of Sharon drops
its blossoms in the street like used tampons.
Sorry to be crude. I’ve seen the way you look
among a family whose limbs
make a circuitry of white nerves,
a pattern of pleading invitations like a child’s Watch Mes.
I, too, like the deep
green of leaves in rain and the birds
inside them. That was our mistake:
thinking what we care for
should care for us. We all want to be loved
as bees love the balm, but we should know by now
that is how we were loved. For one moment
ravished, adored, unrecognizable
even to ourselves,
except for the jété something inside us made when no one was looking.
It smelled like maple syrup and stayed still as a statue.
That’s how I can tell
you only look cool to the touch.
This poem is from Kathy Fagan’s new manuscript, Sycamore.