A Kind of Grief
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Philip Larkin – The Trees
A season, this, in its puberty, with gangly limbs, flummoxed buds: I love its every awkward day for what erupts or stumbles out–– the tulip, like a glans engorged, erects itself in disbelief; spiked elbows of the rose enflame in tender nubbles, nascent stubs that speak of sap in a coiled glyph; the trees are coming into leaf as if escaping driftwood dreams; and petals gleam with innocence. Yet one detects a faint, burnt tinge from mingled scents of stirred sap, the fading musk of cells entwined in heat, in a soiled and rooted bed. This palimpsest renews itself in the oldest ways, the scribbles hid, an underlay that stays unread–– like something almost being said, it becomes every year for us, demure, oblique, as is a way if we could see––if we could be as greenness is, in the filament of leaves, in mantling over stones, in suppleness of a stem’s thread. As ready, once again, to play and so reflect, instead of beam–– a frank lambency, freely shed. The recent buds relax and spread, at ease with what’s required of them, not bothered by appearances or whether blooming fades too fast. But savoir-faire will never last in all this earnest burgeoning: this contentment––the posture of relief. Instead, a blankness, dumb and blind in myriad lives, dispersed to wind from kernel to shocked sheaf. Their greenness is a kind of grief.
You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.
Wallace Stevens, The Motive of Metaphor
Trees have a language season. Now they speak amongst themselves, with winds’ lisp and intonation. The autumnal tongues you hear have ripened with dying leaves, and silences of sap and fleshy plum, all those greening self-absorptions, have ebbed or dropped away. Drying chords forget they once were dumb. You like it under the trees in autumn, perhaps because the drifting chaff you hear, that scoria of leaves, resonates in your own filaments beneath your shadow as you stride. Driftages too close to notice, still fused in your mind, though shed in the fleeting arc of seasons. You listen to your voice, its rustle and its timbre, numbed by what’s said, because everything is half dead. Maybe the words at a tree’s foot lifted by the wind’s stumbles are eddies of dismay, for autumn is a clumsy season, when winds bump awake complacencies. But you walk on, pull your sleeves, note the joy in arthritic branches poised in an after glow of freedom--- their brief history set in random weaves. The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves and follows the same erratic whims that lace the branches overhead. Yes, you like the autumn elegies beneath the trees, not for rattles from the half dead, but the awakened earnestness of wafted sighing. There are dignities beneath the drifts and in the stirring, an agency still free. A tongue curls, yearning, and repeats words without meaning.
The French Navy Departing For Castile
We know the French will leave in their great boats
For a banner of red & gold hangs at the stone tower.
Men crowd the decks, thronging beetles in metal shells.
The water stipples from stiff wind, the sails stay furled.
Jean Froissart, Chroniques (Vol. Three). 1480-1483
The book is open below glass, parchment yellowed, In half a millennium the inks have begun to fade. Whoever, in the scriptorium, drafts spiriting candles, Bent, pinching his quills and brushes, mustered Dreams out of the Latin chronicles he read, visioned On the dark platen of his mind notions like notes Enkindling remembrance. His recognition fired Some synapse web, & conjured in full expanse A pictorial, so now we see what his narrative denotes. We know the French will leave in their great boats. He must not have seen a man-of-war, the scrivener. His boats are made to fit a wry frame hung in his mind. These are bloated tubs, more like pictures of the ark He may have spied in another tome, the masts straight poles, Webbed & roped with spidery stays & ladders a solid Wind would soon collapse, & would rather cower— The wrapped white sails—than bear the wind & billow, Rather turn to tatters in breezes already licking At the hulls, but the French are ready, the sails will lower, For a banner of red & gold hangs at the stone tower. This scribe was an illuminator, one who brought clarity To the glib tangle of words, gave light and color Entry to the mind’s close work. How much we depend On those that see. How much our own pictures fit What someone else envisioned & passed us complete. The portfolios we clutch we call our lives, the cartels Of days & years, are plagiarized from other minds & made our own almost without us knowing, for When we look at this old book, we claim it as it tells: Men crowd the deck, thronging beetles in metal shells. I jostle others at this museum case, they pass a glance At the old book as something odd, an antique curio. They move on to see Vincent’s irises, or Degas’ Drawings, dimly lighted rooms with spots that guide The eye, explanatory notes glossed quickly, passing by. Yet I linger longer here, strangely captured by the curled Parchment pages, the pink stone turret, the banner, showing Both end & what is to begin, that soldiers mill upon The decks, faces lost in sameness of steel, a static world. The water stipples from stiff wind, the sails stay furled.
These three poems are glosas. The glosa is an early Renaissance form that was developed by poets of the Spanish court in the 14th and 15th centuries. In a glosa, the opening quatrain, called a cabeza, may be by another poet or not, and each of the four lines is imbedded elsewhere in the glosa.
Robert Eastwood is a graduate of California State University At Los Angeles and Saint Mary’s College. His work has appeared recently in Kentucky Review, Bird’s Thumb, and The Hartskill Review. He has two chapbooks published by Small Poetry Press. His first book, Snare: Poems of Refuge and Revenge, is forthcoming from Broadstone Press.