The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
12.2 (Spring 2012)
Garbage, leavings, refuse—
Humidly odorous in decay—
Perfectly incubate the hard-cased seed.
Milky mold, turquoise spore colonies
(Themselves weaned to maturity under wrap:
Crumpled, cast-off cellophane
Or ransacked plastic sandwich bag
Focusing a stray sunbeam
Admitted into the garbage bin),
Tickle the embryo out of its shell.
The baby’s green head balances its helmet
Of hard hull, hunching on hair-delicate neck.
If garbage pick-up should be delayed
Or dogs rake rubbish safely overboard
(Drawn by the manure-gas stench
Of coffee grounds and moldy tea leaves),
A root’s finger may worm into the soil.
The green head lifts and sheds its helmet.
Green hands open by the pair,
Applauding sun, praying for rain.
(All applause and prayer in Nature
Is open-handed, palms up, Buddha-like.)
Tiny green-yellow caterpillar assassins
May shred the leaves, and hope ends there
For the would-be tree. For birds, the silky jaws
Knead leaves into morsels. But for birds
The praying hands that evade green maws
May also build a nest-rich domain,
Many unwrapped sandwich loaves later,
Many morning coffees on the run—
Many thousands of human concessions
To purposive routine’s slow, mounting rot—
Away. Garbage upon garbage upon garbage.
The seedling cannot know that it is birthed
In manure. Is matter excreted less life
Than matter retained? Is not rot birth?
Are caterpillars lesser flowers than their food,
Or is ascent illusion, and is all motion
Merely lateral? Is the coming morning
The springtime of our worthiest deeds?
Have I nose enough to know? Have you?
It began when someone carelessly ejected
A fizzle of spring rain out the car window.
The winter grass, brown and tame for months,
Sparked green in hours round the culprit drops.
By-passers scarcely turned their heads at first:
Not a one thought to phone for help.
The blaze spread quickly. Soon the dull curb
Was enveloped in green, and an idling breeze
Must irresponsibly have swept green embers
All over the neighborhood, then all over town.
Entire blocks were flaming before that first patch
Yet sat in smoldering moist green ruin.
And the trees! The dogwood and wild cherry,
Billowing hickory and lowly fig–
Their sprigs caught the embers as a fish’s gill
Seins currents minutely for oxygen bubbles.
Now it was out of hand. Hysterical peals
For firemen only seemed to make things worse.
Hoses streaming steadily through greenish haze
Failed to bring brown, but instead fanned virid plumes.
Blossoms shed thick fumes, and green-stained shafts of sunlight
Quivered as their heat was veiled in rank aroma.
Sprouts came toppling upward. Shoots swirled ever skyward.
Even the roads from town wrestled with grasses
Flowering either side as tall as fireman’s boots.
At this rate, we shall all be engulfed in green.
George Shirley lives in the Clemson (South Carolina) area. He has studied theology at an advanced level but been carried by mysterious forces into a career of teaching English at various high schools and colleges throughout the Southeast.