Endless Forms Most Beautiful
He is lying, oh my best beloved, on the floor, reading aloud from my grandmother’s copy of the Just So Stories, & his voice feels out and grows full with the tones of Suleiman-bin-Daoud & the Most Beautiful & Splendid Balkis whose cleverness trumps them all. He is the king, the many wives, & the butterfly who stamps & makes the palace crumble.
For years I prayed that I would not inherit my grandmother’s orchids, those ancient fireworks of temptation, sex embalmed in the name itself, freckle & bulbous-throated bloom beckoning even as they burst from jars in the angled light of her stony greenhouse. Their faces bear a symmetry like ours. They demand hours tending their luring seams, repotting the testicular roots. Masquerader, dinosaur, perfumed mutants, wild caprice beloved of Darwin who said it would have been monstrous to imagine an orchid created as we see it now, as if a god capable of forming from nothing those shapely folds & flushed flesh could only have been fashioned by the lean darkness of years, conceiving of neither modesty nor death.
The butterfly sees a higher frequency than we can hope for, a violet, unimaginable depth woven into mosaic by its many eyes. Imagine a plant plain as the common pea. What chaos & gleam the butterfly would see, never so beautiful except perhaps to the old monk himself, in the monastery’s stone-walled garden, robed knees making half-moons in the soil, light flaring off spectacles & the chalk-smooth leaves of the pea plants, which he bends closer to view, the flowers’ precious color, oh, oh my best beloved, opening.
Blessed Are Those Who Dwell in Your House
Fotheringay, Virginia: 1820
Even the sparrow finds a home,
the Lord says, & the swallow a nest
for herself, where she may lay
her young. The fireflies turn up
their lamps, & evening spreads
her blue palms over the valley’s
sturdy breasts, where no sickness
grows. I know you ride hard,
but take your rest. Smooth
your mount’s sweat-slicked coat.
Your house is all the world,
the endless map of your mind,
& my outline as low as prairie
beneath the quilt. Only promise
you’ll keep my bones in this place,
which always was what I called
mine. How far can such a missive
travel in a single dusk? Does it find
you awake in the night, the russet
candle of your hair grown silver
over this slow ending. The light
shines in the darkness, O, my reckless
one, my longknife, my river-giver,
& the darkness comprehends it at last.