By Keith Ratzlaff
I’m walking through goldenrod
in new shoes, shoes I got for a song—
like the one I’m singing now
that pleases the cicadas, the one
that would make Schubert cry.
And I love the way the ash
is the first tree always
to turn, throw its hands
in the air and say shoot me
like a tourist on the subway;
or the way Napoleon’s troops
burned the flag rather
than surrender it, then
drank the ashes in brandy.
It didn’t matter. It was still
the same black feather
on the tongue, they were still
the same superior forces.
So I’m singing for the ash
and the cottonwood, then
for the cowardly willow,
for crows dying in their steeples,
for shirts I should have never thrown out—
the ones with destinations on their chests;
I’m singing swansongs and torch songs,
songs of the Chinese Coffin-pullers,
of men standing on one leg,
of the birch outside my window
abducted by bag worms. The tree
has wriggled one green leaf free
and waves it goodbye like a hankie,
waves I’m all right, I’ll be home,
don’t worry. And I’ve got leaves
in my pocket for company
and I’m walking through the sunflowers
and chicory of the autumnal Midwest,
and I’m singing for my occasional friends—
two Labradors—who come bounding up
and I’m singing for the kid
paid to walk them but who’s always late,
singing because I don’t like dogs much,
but these two include me as if
I were still inclusionable.
This isn’t regret,
but relief that again this year
we will give up the Chateaux
with a minimum of bloodshed.
And the younger dog fetches
cottonwood leaves, carries them
soft-lipped in his mouth
the way I would if I were a dog,
by instinct. And I’m singing
because who else but a dog
could be so happy at finding me here?
And I’m singing because yesterday
I needed something to hold,
and he laid his gold head in my hands.