Hybrid Magnolias in Late April Poem
You bent to whisper to a small granddaughter,
Exposing the bald priestly back of your head,
Lifting her then and handing her to me:
See you in April.
Never the same, these northern magnolias,
As the great starred candelabra ghosting,
Even before I left them, the deep-shaded
Lawns of my boyhood.
And yet these too break wholly into blossom,
What somebody called the early petal-fall:
I walk out one day and the limbs are bare;
Then they are burdened
With the flared tulip shapes of opening blooms.
Two rainy indoor days in a row, then out,
The sun is out, and a fallen constellation
Litters the grasses.
What would you be up to this April morning?
Muttering to yourself, looking high and low
For the good stick fashioned out of laurel?
I have it with me.
Patience. Lean back and light another Lucky.
Whatever will kill you dozes in your rib cage.
Read a few more pages in the Little
Flowers of St. Francis,
Then throw a window open on the fragrance
Of even this, the northernmost magnolia.
By now the child you lifted in your arms has
Slipped from their circle
To cherish and polish your crooked old stick,
Into a poem of her own so tender and deft,
I can hold its wrong end and reach you the worn
Thumb of its handle.
from Passing through Customs: New and Selected