The Lemon Tree

Transformation, disintegration, entropy, loss,
fragments of song
borne off the ocean on a wind tasting of oysters, pine resin, and brine.
Everything vanishes, but where does it go? How do you know where any path will lead, which rock the salamander hides beneath, feldspar and mullein, sprigs of parsley, days of ether in a rye field under Russian skies, seashells, driftwood, old plastics—the scarred, marble-hard artificiality of bowling balls hurled and spun so long the bowling alley has become a tavern, a flower store, then a Laundromat fallen on hard times in a section of the city once seen as up-and-coming now spiraling without explanation into terminal destitution or a post-industrial malaise, no one seems sure which. No one wants to risk a guess. There is no one on that street even to ask, amidst the pale northern sunlight and gutter-collected leaves of late autumn.
Still, if the universe is an endless collection of departures they must be met in equal measure by arrivals, conservation of matter being a Newtonian law.
Here is the flower seller with her cart, the policeman chewing gum, the spotted puppy, bees at the gates of nectar, ants in dark cities, thorny branches castigated by wind.
You can smell the lingering odor of flowers from the lemon tree
but you cannot touch them.
Where are they now? In which index or chronicle is that precise configuration of molecules recorded—when the boyish policeman stopped to greet the flower girl whose shadow bruised the faces of the peonies as a single pollen-coated bee emerged—
that instant erased like fog from a window?
In line at the cafeteria the food steams and beckons, suggestive jello cubes in melamine bowls, lima beans exuding butter from every pore, whether we posses a nickel or a fortune in bullion the potential realizations are infinite as long as they remain just that. But we must choose! It is either chicken and rice or a cup of coffee with banana cream pie, which however sensational is still a diminishment, the uxorious richness of the possible replaced by the finitude of the real.
From the ever-rotating food-display we have chosen our final meal.
From the great time-stream we have arrested a single atomic numeral and so selected our destiny.
Tonight the wind is painting the pine needles with salt while the chameleons cling patiently beneath the porch light. They know that moths will come if they wait. They wait. Moths come. The wind calms, the fog begins to lift. The house is restored to its timbre of groaning night sounds, a nocturne of peeping tree frogs, the soft moans of palm fronds and termite-ridden beams.
Where once they were bright with flowers,
the limbs of the lemon tree are heavy with clustering, forest-green nubs, nuptial fruit amid the thorns.
The Custodian and Other Poems
Campbell McGrath

The Custodian and Other Poems

Campbell McGrath

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