Green Thought

thumbnail_Shapiro Alan Exum portrait NC Gallery

Alan Shapiro in the North Carolina Gallery in Wilson Library. Eavan Boland, author of A Woman Without a Country, says the poems in Shapiro’s new book “draw us into deeper understandings of our own losses and give us a language for what often seems beyond speech.” (photo by Steve Exum)

By Alan Shapiro

There is a park nobody goes to now
where the leather swing seats of the swings hang slack
in a line of sad Us next to a castle of slides
and ramps, a parapet and staircase winding
around a tower so crooked you’d think it had
been frozen in the act of falling down.

A creek divides the park from a thin strip
of woods beyond it, a creek that’s not a creek
but just a gully for runoff after rain,
a rocky, dry creek bed that’s dotted here
and there with pools that after rain becomes
a sudsy rapids in the middle of which

the gnarled exposed roots of an old beech
make an islet of snakes for nesting condoms, needles,
flip-flops, and a brown bag full of empties.
By late fall past the leaf-clogged, shriveled creek
through bare trees there’s a white apartment complex.
But in the spring, or summer after a rain,

if you should cross the footbridge over the creek
into the woods, the park and the apartments,
the swings and falling castle, and the complex
tall with the noise of living too far away
to hear, too everyday to bother hearing —
briefly and barely, all of it vanishes,

annihilated, you might even say,
to a green shade where, free of body, for
a moment overhead, you can almost see it,
the marvel of a willing nectarine
and peach bending the end branches to the hands
that only have to open, never reach.

From Life Pig (The University of Chicago Press), a poetry collection by Alan Shapiro, the William R. Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and creative writing. Shapiro, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has published many books, including Reel to Reel, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. His new collection of essays, That Self-Forgetful Perfectly Useless Concentration, is also available from The University of Chicago Press.

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