Today's poems are by Barbara Lau

Primer for June

Is it enough to say that fireflies lollygag
above the lilies, and ply the fields with sparklers,
and drift about the sky like lazy comets?
Should I add that day lilies got their name
not by closing at night
           but by lasting just one day?

And what about cowbirds, omnipresent
this time of year. And their cousin, the red-winged
blackbird, whose slash of red at the crux
of its black wings crisscrossing a flat white sky
taught me to appreciate Mondrian's paintings
           (surely one of which he made in June).

Or shoud I stick to elderberries,
their crocheted, saucer-sized blooms
smelling of almond and burnt maple syrup.
More pungent than marzipan, which I've made
           only once, and poorly.

When I'm snagged by the 6:00 P.M. coal train—
the one I lose count of after three hundred cars,
the one that takes a full four minutes to pass—
is it enough to wait without cursing?
Maybe watching a few cowbirds.
Or humming "Giant Steps"
           to the clouds in the cheap seats.

Then tonight, it's enough to water
the tomatoes. Pet the stray cat.
The one I call "Cat."
           And let it go at that.

Ode to Beach
        This is the sea, then, this great abeyance
                      —Sylvia Plath, "Berck-Plage"

I repeat. The sea heaves and lumbers to shore
in one long drum roll after another. All day / all night
the same five waves collapsing, regrouping
into thick barrels of brine. Stare at them enough
and you can take them with you, miles inland,

their pitch and roll seared onto the movie screen
beneath your closed lids. Which, I repeat,
is fine with me. I come here for redundancy,
for gulls cross-stitching a ten-foot swath
of sky, for sea oats kowtowing to a breeze

that's always blowing. And for clouds stalled
over the water, trussed up like fat, glossy turkeys,
like Buddha ruminating on the marsh's
electric-green sheen. Is this, then, abeyance—
life that favors stasis over progress,

tides that sweep clean the slate, then wait
for the next crop of children, shovels, buckets, shells
to rebuild the same castles, same moats
as last year's sons and daughters who suddenly
shed their soft padding, their affinity for sand.

Why want more than five waves tossing
ghost crabs across our path? Or my girls' short lapse
into their six-year-old selves, chasing the crabs'
Burlesque tap-and-skedaddle into the dunes.
And tomorrow, at dusk? Pelicans! Dozens

just above the breakers, plodding as Clydesdales,
marking the border of the island like thick-leaded
cartographers. Then it's time to collect
the family on the deck for cocktails, binoculars,
and my dogged recitation of field guide facts:

    "Sand dunes can walk seventy feet in a year!"
    "Chlorophyll is one atom shy of hemoglobin!"
Soon they're off on some mission while I
marvel at the overlap of leaf and flesh.
And how the daughters are fundamentally themselves.
And that you still dock your body next to mine.

Copyright © 2004 Barbara Lau All rights reserved
from Southern Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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