12-2 poem2

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A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

12.2 (Spring 2012)





Spring Fall

George Shirley


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?

Five-Alarm Equinox


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.