The Leaf Washers
“The plants eat light.” From Michael Pollan’s “How Smart are Plants?” in the New Yorker
Yesterday we washed the leaves
Today they salute us
Reaching out, waving their storybook lives
Like the pages of a book
Fluttering long fingers
Beckoning, or speaking the gesture language
Heavier creatures invent upon their fingers
They pulse their high wire stories through the air waves
The leaves live in the air, the air is home, shelter, food for them
The current of breath that fills my senses
Orders time for the dance of the hours
The leaves make time for us, filtering the world
The minutes emerge from pores and make sense for us,
Slow as the waves of the world
They save the voices of the children
They lie still before the whine of the engines
To still them is to deafen the magic
They droop like ears silenced by the humdrum of machines
They turn the salutes of the hours into triumphs of air
They sluice and filter the music of the world
They are the companionate senses of the wild green earth,
A bowering neighbor,
A grotto of tuned and tasted pleasure, pre-digested by fertility,
A porous protection, a second self
They guide the sun to my temple
I am—we are—within the village of the world,
Inside temples among the jungled cities
The leaves salute our fellow travelers in their journeys through the sky
As friends, superiors in life, elders, survivors of earlier days
They know where they situate is all the world
They mediate the base of things, the fundamentals,
Molecules, waves, atoms, energy-matter—the rain in Piccadilly,
The fountains of Beirut, the voices of the stars
As A Tree
Tannish tassels smudging the plants,
bedecking leaves like off-color tinsel,
a plague of dust tarnishing the green.
Mannish flowers these, gifts of the oak,
a thing made all of secrets.
You never see it sleep, or shout, or breathe, or blow, or natter
or rumble, or do anything.
The wind “does.” The birds leap and shout.
Leaves appear. Branches fall.
Catkins parachute softly in the spring,
a daring raid behind enemy lines; success assured by numbers.
The oak is ever that which is, not that which shows
in its becoming.
It is always being a tree.
Surely we all have heard this moralized explanation of “giving”—
these theatrically magical seeds
these time-lapse photographs of “stages”:
the seedling with the corny hat, a sproutling, a slender sapling (like a boy with a bat),
branches that shoot outward like crosses
held against the terrors of a world of fire, seething winds, clinging ice,
quaking thunder, shaking earth.
Time passes through the tree.
It perseveres in thereness, wise in the way of treeing.
We encounter, witness, regard, visit,
become what we will, in our endless evolutions.
The oak always was what it will be
whenever I behold it: then is now.
Robert Knox is a Boston Globe correspondent, a poet and fiction writer, and the author of a recently published novel based on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Suosso’s Lane. As a contributing editor for the online poetry journal, Verse-Virtual, his poems appear regularly on that site. They have also appeared in Every Day Poet, Off The Coast, Houseboat, Yellow Chair Review and other journals. His chapbook Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty (Finishing Line Press) was published in May 2017.