March 26, 2008

Medicine Tree

A disbeliever down to the bone,
he kneels before the stunted tree
alone in the feverish desert

called sleep. Various offerings—
wells of ink, plaster statuettes,
pages yellowed by time and heat—

from those who, like him,
once hoped to be forgiven or healed
lie scattered around. No doubt

he desires the persimmon
seeds, some kind of constellation
to give mercy, mercy enough.

Such windfallen fruit.
Such impossible sweetness.
Nothing here, says coyote.

Don’t listen, says man. Believe.
When enough is spent, the sainted
tree seems to creak, seems to whisper,

on words reverently pronounced
as ritualistic appeasements,
only then will the buffalo’s head

propped here in the highest fork
listen and reply. A spoonful of maggots
swims in each ear and the slack mouth.

The man snatches lines from the wind,
uproots them along with the pale grass
and swallows alkali. Nothing.

He praises the wind’s countless
moods, that grass for its democracy.
Nothing at all. He strikes flint

for illumination and misses the mark,
drawing blood. One eye in the head opens
halfway. The wound is not enough.

Tonight the first poem will happen.

—Allen Braden
previously published in Poetry Northwest

Posted by dwaber at March 26, 2008 12:38 PM