May 2011: Poetry
by Katie Karnehm
It is a sublime thing to suffer and be stronger.
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When you are past hope for color,
when even the croci have slipped away
again, look away from the gray horizon.
A nearby tree, naked in grey buds,
feels a secret brewing in its roots.
When winter has doubled back and you
have resigned yourself to white ice falling
from heaven, half dense mud, the dying
squidge of brown leaves trapped in garden
purgatory, look into the earth. We hear you.
When paint flakes off the neighborhood and
styrofoam cups wrestle with the dirty snow,
when the power lines bear down, cutting the sky
as old women struggle in the margins of streets,
When the earth finally feels dead, breathe in.
The scent you smell--the sharp cure
of March. The wind tearing along your nose--
the cleansing of April. The sound you hear
when the birds have given up is the sound
of us listening back to you.
Your collective breath a thaw, telling our dark
rooting hearts to beat again, again, again,
and then we push through soil, humus, curbside
litter, poison mulch, forgetting. We are hard
to kill. We pulse until
one leaden morning you push against
the wind, overcoated, all the way to work
where, despite the best intentions of last year's
landscapers, we form a crooked halo,
a line of scarlet grace wherever the soil gives way.
Overnight, the tulip tree earned its name
again, transforming from a brown tree guarding
a brown house, orange notice postage
stamped in the picture window, to a tree laden
with thank offerings. The purple cups extend
in blessing, branches like dancer's arms
in fifth position as the host drops to one knee
on the thin lawn singing Holy, Holy, Holy--
then turns, an ordinary tree blessing an ordinary
street. Where the beagle paces its fence and the cars
wait; where the old woman walks her cat in the hosta
leaves. Where another neighborhood blueprinted
over waits for the bulldozer, and where the bulldozer
coming for the last beautiful thing finds
a tree, with hands like lavender fire.
Katie Karnehm received her B.A. in writing from Indiana Wesleyan University and went on to study creative writing for a Master's and Ph.D. at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. She received her Ph.D. in 2009 and is now teaching composition and writing courses at Indiana Wesleyan University. She lives in Marion, Indiana, with her husband Aaron and their three dogs.