Helen Wickes

NEIGHBOR’S MAGNOLIA

                        
                        Hurry up and break
into life, I say, right now
while I’m watching.
January and everything
too slow. You, the one green-budded tree:

                        I climb upstairs to see
you’re relentlessly bare, not changing
a lick. February is when blooms
unzip. Winter for tracking
the incremental. Wherever it leads.

                        Hours to practice
the art of naming: pink, magenta, rose,
cup-shaped, goblet-sized, goat-eared,
leathery-petaled—getting you wrong
and wronger. The evening wind

                        like someone sweeping
a concrete floor. You, the tree,
the woman in too-tight shoes, shifting
your weight. You’re strange; you have
no scent, harbor no bird, no squirrel.

                        Pure and aloof
as the beautiful aunt we disliked
but couldn’t stop gawking at.
Positive that she withheld
the one secret we needed to live.

                        That’s you, tree.
But come March it’s thanks and farewell.
In a pink swirl your petals blow off.
Why can’t they fade, wither, spoil,
age, succumb, instead of flying

                        straight from prime
to ruin? I prefer Camille to Earhart.
Slow down, why don’t you,
green-leaved thing,
pulling us fast, faster.
 
 

FIFTY-MINUTE HOURS

 
Please don’t bring the ferrets
again next week, but trouble the water
and drink from the well. Last week, everyone
loathed their second born.

Three hundred milligrams
with a martini? There’s always Delphi
or black cohosh with ground seahorse
if you boil it two days, but beware

of wolfsbane. My Wednesday person
dislikes this dress, says I look like
wallpaper. Let me open the window
and shoo those naughty words

right on out. It was Nina Simone, darlin’,
I was there. Your hair looks fabulous,
tell her I said so. Your doctor’s
a quack. Go drink from the deeper well.

Some minutes require infinite revision.
You dreamt “cherish” or “perish”?
To get over him, let’s find a word
you can sharpen your teeth on.

Lord, if you won’t make me brilliant,
trouble the water and forbid me
to whine. One year, many sentences
ended in “not.” Another year,

everyone stepped up to the plate.
Our plate was full, dance card too.
Of course I’ll miss you.
Don’t explain; don’t wear orange.
 
 

ODE TO A JEFFREY PINE

 
You tangled and softened the scorch
of sunlight and knew the secret
underground springs. Your greenness
lifted the cool flavor of water, suggesting

a generosity we vowed to learn,
but failed and vowed again.
Mad, frantic squirrels
circled your girth, and bluejays
blossomed on your crown.

Every July we practically prayed
to you. But last year you turned
a disastrous lurid orange.

The red-crowned woodpecker drilled you
with a spongy, sick sound. Your cones,
big as coffee cans, splintered
on the ground. Needles fell in clouds,
like shedding hair.

At Kay’s store, Jack and Larry talk
of casting for ’bows, of sinkers and flashers,
shallows and deeps, saying, Yeah,
we took that sucker down, no sweat.

Your stump’s wide enough to nap on,
with hack marks from wedges
and ragged gouge bites from the ax.

The work did not go smoothly. The saws
dulled, the men tired. You were so dried out,
you could have gone straight from tree
to dust but resisted.

There are boot-stomped beer cans,
mounds of crushed-out cigarettes,
ripped open Band-Aid wrappers.
You made them work, left nothing
to build with or burn.

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