Campbell Corner Language Exchange

The Poetry of David Baker


Late Blooming Roses



It is to Emerson I have turned now,
damp February, for he has written
of the moral harmony of nature.
The key to every man is his thought.
But Emerson, half angel, suffers his
dear Ellen dying only half consoled
that her lungs shall no more be torn nor her

head scalded by blood, nor her whole life
suffer from the warfare between the force
& delicacy of her soul & the
weakness of her frame...March the 29th,
1832, of an evening strange
with dreaming, he scribbles "I visited
Ellen's tomb & & opened the coffin."

--Emerson looking in, clutching his key.
Months of hard freeze have ruptured the wild
fields of Ohio, and burdock is standing
as if stunned by persistent cold wind
or leaning over, as from rough breath.
I have brought my little one, bundled and
dear, to the lonely place to let her run,

hoary whiskers, wild fescue, cracks widened
along the ground hard from a winter drought.
I have come out for the first time in weeks
still full of fever, insomnia-fogged,
to track flags of breath where she's dying
to vanish on the hillsides of bramble
and burr. The seasonal birds--scruff cardinal,

one or two sparrows, something with yellow--
scatter in their small explosions of ice.
Emerson, gentle mourner, would be pleased
by the physical crunch of the ground, damp
from the melt, shaped by the shape of his boot,
that half of him who loved the Dunscore heath
too rocky to cultivate, covered thick

with heather, gnarled hawthorn, the yellow furze
not far from Carlyle's homestead where they strolled,
--that half of him for whom nature was thought.
Kate has found things to deepen her horror
for evenings to come, a deer carcass tunnelled
by slugs, drilled, and abandoned, a bundle
of bone shards, hoof and hide, hidden by thick

bramble, or the bramble itself enough
to collapse her dreams, braided like rope, blood-
colored, blood-barbed, tangled as Medusa.
What does she see when she looks at such things?
I do not know what is wrong with me
that my body has erupted, system by system, sick unto itself. I do

not know what I have done, nor what she thinks
when she turns toward her ill father. How did
Emerson behold of his Ellen, un-
embalmed face falling in, of her white hands?
Dreams & and beasts are two keys by which we are
to find out the secrets of our own natures.
Half angel, Emerson wrestles all night

with his journal, the awful natural
fact of Ellen's death, which must have been
deeper sacrifice than a sacrament.
Where has she gone now, wholse laughter comes down
like light snow on the beautiful hills?
Perhpas it is the world that is the matter...
--His other half worried by the wording.


Late Blooming Roses

The Sun cracks through
the bracken sky-
week of

black clouds, rain, spit-
mist of fog
the streets

gripped with terror,
and mud against
the curbs.

Now the dog down
the street's racked with

and the red flag
waves on my e-
mail screen.

I want the petals
bright, the whole
nine yards:

so when the hel-
icopter thumps

from somewhere to
somewhere, I
feel once

again the heart-
rattle, that old
grave fear,

--that thrum-as in
a movie of

that everybody
watch, though no
one won.




Of particular note is the issue
of originality.  Each boy has
etched and painted-over in purple his
          initials onto his bike's frame tubing.
Presumably this will prevent someone
          from taking it, riding it, mistaking
its true ownership, which is important
if you are to keep your integrity.
They have propped and parked their expensive rides
          along the dusty path by the chopped field_

          as their fathers before them, they sweep now
like water, recurrent in waves, chasing

a large, white ball across the big park.
          American art is bereft by war,
yet American play is a battle
          gone wild. Consider the bone-cracking games
at the mall, the light spray of spit issued
from spectators_ lips on TV wrestling.
But who would wish a real life of trauma,
          hunger, tyranny, grief, or the blood-bruised
gums of poverty, even if that would
          provide our art authenticating pain?

Goran Simic survived Sarajevo_
          a Serb married to a Muslim, with two

small children_through three brute years of terror,
          hiding in a small apartment, writing
poems: There's a photograph of my father
carrying a sub-machine gun, a
Russian gun (only the best for the best),
          and walking into our town from the hills.
He's yelling _Victory! Victory!_thin
          as death and wearing a garland of flowers.

Is he grateful for his daily witness?
Someone has strung a clothes-line in the grave-

yard, he writes in _Sarajevo Spring,_ and
a hundred diapers semaphore the wind.

Or would a poet, in such circumstance,
          rather dream of seagulls and the sea and
play a child's fast game? Our local hero,
          four-hundred-metre man . . . sits all day by
the running track in his wheelchair as if
it might suddenly come back to him: what next.

Is borrowed agony more or less true?
          Life goes on en masse, just as the boys seem
a little battalion of strategy,
          a few flanked out by the weeping willows,
one or two speeding counter with the ball,
          flailing, falling. Their voices swell like wind.

Courage takes on a more pointed meaning
          in more oppressive societies
, writes
Louise Gluck. Free society, the society
that neither restricts speech nor values it,
ennervates by presenting too few
Gluck's not advocating war,
but she's sick of American poets
          envying the prestige of bravery,
when the horror in American hearts
is more like pale irony than peril.

How can we make art from that? Or, let's be
blunt: how can we not? The poet's work is

the hard effort of the passions gathered
          from everyone around us. We speak what
we're given. We must be grateful for it.
          Otherwise the boys below in the field
blown beautiful with sun and clover might be
dead in an instant. It's what Milosz saw
in Warsaw, fifty years ago, haunting
          his work ever since_in his head the image
of a white skull kicked by feet in passing
  In his head, the image of a white skull

kicked by feet in passing. What else to say?
Thus blood, as the cheer goes, makes the grass grow.