2014 Robert Frost Award - Finalist
Sestina for an ill boy
A loyal maple lingers by your bed: nature fiercely altered.
Its sugar finds your pulse, then trickles in with a rhythm
partly boy, partly tree. For comity we call it Mr. Pipes:
a way of making peace with hard
adjustments. It takes long freezing nights and thawing
days to make the sap come like this -- a big run.
Drip after drip, each steadier than the last, run
through clear lines. I see, now, nothing’s altered
that hadn’t already gone awry. Your limbs, thawing
in the afternoon sun. The only rhythm --
rations of sap met evenly, at last, with insulin. The hard
trek back from a seizure’s arctic grip: whistling pipes,
banks of white cotton; a nurse (too cheerful) pipes
up: how brave you are, and you’ll be up and run-
ning in no time. A promise? Or a wish for her hard-
luck kids? One spring, we got behind; buckets overflowed, altered
the ground below to a sticky mat that sounded the rhythm
of hard luck in thick, slow plops. The whole world thawing
like centuries of ice cracking beneath us, thawing
the gummy linings of blackened buckets and pipes –
dripping with a precision suggestive of a subterranean rhythm.
I read, that spring, that scientists can tell if the sap has run
up from the roots or down the bark – but, not why its taste is altered
year to year. Always the questions we care about that are hard.
And “coming to” always the same: that hard
expression sweeps over you. Your eyes, half-frozen pools still thawing:
late winter, but late in feeling the seasons altered.
Your way of banning ceremony, or welcome-horns, or pipes.
Your way of taking back the small reserves that run
from you each time you lose this fight. Your fitful rhythm
yielding to this old-world, pacing rhythm.
And knowing where to greet you, here or there, always so hard
to gauge. Which is the place of the senses? Where we out-run
our fears? You take us there, each thawing
day, it seems. Limbs or pipes?
We give up these distinctions. Nothing is altered
that wasn’t already granted. Nothing is altered
that makes us see things hard
to see. Some call it god, others just tendrils thawing.