“The Wood-Sprite” in the suburbs
Lunchtime. I plant myself on a cast stone bench in an
office park to read under piebald light. Live oaks low
and sigh, limbs bowed, their swayback ladders akimbo
to my wind-blown thoughts as the leaves of Nabokov’s
“Wood-Sprite” whip back and forth, urging me down
a forgotten, broken path; and so I read aloud to the sickly
photinia, the chlorotic nandina. We lean close together,
whisper to each other we’re also exiles, not native:
it’s the pain of that alkaline fact turns us pale.
Unhomed in familiar places: Caterpillars scrape
those green migrants a thin table, each cut a place-set
for chinaberry, ailanthus, Russian olive. Still, it’s
lovely, their émigré murmur—these innocent thieves
and their ancient dryads so different from those who,
fleeing an old world, shed beliefs until bare, until
even their shadows forgot how to cast themselves.
I remember. And we sit together, my sprites and I, talk
about the spice-box woods I wandered when I was a child,
the second-hand second growth forest singing a Babel of
songs in between the tract housing, the freeways. Their
gift—seeds—laughing, “Oh yes, they’re not from here.”
Xris at Flatbush Gardener is hosting the next Festival of the Trees. The poem above found me in a quiet corner near a strip mall, where I could hear the dryads despite noise from the road.