I have to tell you this, whoever you are:
that on one summer morning here, the ocean
pounded in on tumbledown breakers,
a south wind, bustling along the shore,
whipped the froth into little rainbows,
and a reckless gull swept down the beach
as if to fly were everything it needed.
I thought of your hovering saucers,
looking for clues, and I wanted to write this down,
so it wouldn't be lost forever --
that once upon a time we had
meadows here, and astonishing things,
swans and frogs and luna moths
and blue skies that could stagger your heart.
We could have had them still,
and welcomed you to earth, but
we also had the righteous ones
who worshipped the True Faith, and Holy War.
When you go home to your shining galaxy,
say that what you learned
from this dead and barren place is
to beware the righteous ones.
((C) 1996 from New and Selected Poems, l956-l996, U.of Arkansas Pr.
NOT TOMORROW, MAYBE, BUT SOON
Down from your marble high-rise,
along the relentless concrete,
past the asphalt avenues,
you come at last to the park, and yes,
the trees are still there, but wait –
they’re different now: you don’t
remember that murky shade
from yesterday’s walk – or
was it last week? Last year?
This is more than the dusk of trees
or forest or jungle – look,
now it’s slipped in behind you, the trees
choking the deserted streets,
sending their snaky limbs
into abandoned apartments,
their brawny roots upending
granite and limestone, the whole
metropolis crumbling away
to Mayan temples strangled
in angry vines,
Angkor crushed in hungry tentacles –
and after those shock troops come
the bushes, the brambles, ferns,
and grass –
grass everywhere, mossing the ruins
in thunder, rain, steaming sun,
spiders webbing over forgotten doorways,
and small white blossoms busy
blooming a plot for your grave.
After all those years of chainsaws
bulldozers, bushhogs, now
it’s payback time for green things
and their dark memories:
they were here before you came.
They’ll be here after you’re gone.
After the dusty bodies swarmed
through hungry streets of swollen cities;
after the vast pink spawning of family
poisoned the Wabash and ravaged the Rockies;
after the gamble of latex,
diaphragms, and pills;
I invoked the white robes, gleaming blades
ready for blood, and feeling the blight
of Increase and Multiply, made
affirmation: Yes, deliver us from
complicity. And after the precision of scalpels,
I woke to sunshine in a land
where the catbird mates for life,
in a country of will and boundless hope,
where the maps trace out no alibis --
stepped into a landscape of naked truth,
where acts mean what they really are:
the purity of loving
for the sake of love.
(from New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996, U. of Arkansas Pr., 1996)
Poems copyright © 2012 by Philip Appleman. All rights, including electronic, are reserved by the author
Philip Appleman has published ten volumes of poetry, including New and Selected Poems, l956-l996 (University of Arkansas Press, l996); three novels, including Apes and Angels (Putnam, l989); and half a dozen nonfiction books, including the widely used Norton Critical Edition, Darwin. His poetry and fiction have won many awards, including a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Friend of Darwin Award from the National Center for Science Education, and the Humanist Arts Award of the American Humanist Association, and have appeared in scores of publications, including Harper's Magazine, The Nation, New Republic, New York Times, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Poetry, Sewanee Review, and Yale Review. He has given readings of his poetry at the Library of Congress, the Guggenheim Museum, the Huntington Library, and many universities. Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, he is a founding member of the Poets Advisory Committee of Poets House, New York, a former member of the governing board of the Poetry Society of America, a member of the Academy of American Poets, PEN American Center, Poets & Writers, Inc., and the Authors Guild of America.