28 February 2009

John Frederick Nims

[from John Frederick Nims's The Six-Cornered Snowflake and Other Poems, New Directions, 1990]

The Shape of Leaves

A premonition in the leaves,
     old words the forest spoke:
For poplar leaf, read shield of kinds,
     read testy rogue for oak.
Catalpa leaf's a perfect heart;
     your linden leaf, baroque.

Here linden and catalpa drape
     arcades where the entwined
Young hopefuls, dazzled with themselves,
     see all through haloes. Blind,
Good souls, they cannot read the leaves
     or puzzle to construe
Why linden leaf's a crooked heart
     and why catalpa's true,
Or why in fall both turn alike
     to show of goldsmith's art,
Compounding treason in the woods
     -- the true, the crooked heart --
Then fallen, mould the earth we know,
     root, humus, tufty growth.

Look, lover: on our weathered jeans
     how rich a stain of both.

[non-formatted excerpt from "The Six-Cornered Snowflake" -- "K." is Kepler]

. . .

a juggler's
way with words, as:
in swank of scholastic Latin nix is snow;
but, in his burlier German, nichts is nothing.
Ergo: this snow, like all the world, is
only a pale chemise on nothingness.
You doubt? He'll quote you Persius:
"O curas hominem, O quantum est in
rebus inane." Hollow hopes of men!
One solace though: "A living death
is life without philosophy." Or life
without its drollery: he'll wink at snow's
raunch role in folklore. "A snowflake
got me with child,"

so, totes the tad
south to dispose of, miming in mock woe,
"Your snowflake baby melted in the sun."
Feet shuffle in the decencies of nature.
Meanwhile K. rakes among six-angled
sorts for a clue. In pomegranate?
honecomb? Prime diamonds mined in
wash of gravel favor octahedrons,
compacted to six peaks -- to six, eureka!
Here's earth and sky attuned, a same
sign from each, extruded from blue flues of
long extinct volcanoes; from blue choirs
of heaven, the two

The Six-Cornered Snowflake and Other Poems (New Directions Paperbook, 700)

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