Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Three Poems by Michael H. Brownstein

Buddha Comes to Highland Park to Visit a Tree
When the Sorokku tree came to us—
dead?—half dead?—panting?
was it the change of air, the foreign soil,
the strange language we used around it?
We anchored it with a ring of candles,
jasmine and sunshine, the greenhouse
blossoming with leaf and hornet,
flower and beneficial. The tree held
its breath. We researched, googled, asked
young girls to take turns kicking its bark
(and when my wife joined the line,
heard a no from somewhere, a you’re too old,
and she stepped away). The greenhouse
gathered moisture, let insects lay eggs
on scale and mites, welcomed butterflies,
beetles, ladybugs, the smell of soap,
sandalwood, peppermint, pickle juice.
Still the tree refused to breathe,
and so we talked to it, stood before it,
and finally listened. It was then we found
the piece of crystal, small and inexact,
with just a hint of the Buddha shape.
We buried it between roots and trunk
and soon, first leaves, new shoots,
and we celebrated, offering more candles,
spices and sugar, water from the homeland,
young girls with broad feet and we thought
to bury another crystal, but did not
understanding now the value of understanding.
The tree, satiated at last, let its leaves flow
to their length, and we began to feel its breath,
marveled at the way it held itself as if in prayer,
its leaves the palms of hands rejoicing
as if it too had need of reverence. 
Gray bricks of mud
and silver water bandaging itself.
A swale and a bottom wetland,
the paper wasp nest, the paper birch,
a stream and the log covering it.
Somehow a stronghold of buckthorn,
poison berry, a groundswell of root.
Can you not see it? Mud hard dried,
sun dried, hand dried, chapped
gray and leather.
Who believes in trees?
A racing from ravines on fire?
The safety of sand at the entrance of water?
Soon everything is black faced and charcoal.
A house opens its lid
And lets in the stain of its own destruction.
Elsewhere silence so immense,
Light and texture shape the wind.
Who worships trees?
A race from one space to another?
Two feet of water in the middle of everything?
Michael H. Brownstein has been widely published throughout the small and literary presses.  His work has appeared in The Cafe Review, American Letters and Commentary, Skidrow Penthouse, Xavier Review, Hotel Amerika, Free Lunch, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Pacific Review, Poetrysuperhighway.com and others.  In addition, he has nine poetry chapbooks including The Shooting Gallery (Samidat Press, 1987), Poems from the Body Bag (Ommation Press, 1988), A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004), What Stone Is (Fractal Edge Press, 2005), I Was a Teacher Once (Ten Page Press, 2011) and Firestorm:  A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Press, 2012).  He is the editor of First Poems from Viet Nam (2011).

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