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A weekly poem, read by the author.
May 28 2002 4:48 PM


after Rilke

Listen to the poet reading this poem. You've seen a cat consume a hummingbird, seen it scoop its beating body from the pyrocanthus bush and break its wings with tufted paws before marshaling it, whole, into its bone-tough throat; seen a boy, heart racing with cocaine, climb from a car window in a tumble to the ground, his search for pleasure ending in skinned palms; a woman's shouts as she is pushed into the police cruiser, large hand pressing her head into the door, red lights spinning their tornado in the street.

But of all that will fade; on the table is the amaryllis,
pushing its monstrous body in the air,
requiring no soil to do so, having wound
two seasons' rot into a white and papered bulb,
exacting nutrition from the winter light,
culling from complex chemistry the tints
and fragments that tissue and pause and build
again the pigment and filament.
The flower crescendos, toward the light,
though better to say despite it,
gores through gorse and pebble
to form a throat, so breakable, open
with its tender pistils, damp with rosin,
simple in its simple sex, to burn and siphon
itself in air. Tongue of fire, tongue
of earth, the amaryllis is the rudiment
of form itself, forming its meretricious petals
to trumpet and exclaim.

How you admire it. How you see it vibrate
in the draft, a song it is, a complex wheel
bitten with cogs, swelling and sexual,
though nothing will touch it. You have forced it
to spread itself, to cleave and grasp,
remorseless, open to your assignments—
this is availability, this is tenderness,
this red plane is given to the world.
Sometimes the heart breaks. Sometimes
it is not held hostage. The red world
where cells prepare for the unexpected
splays open at the window's ledge.
Be not human you inhuman thing.
No anxious, no foible, no hesitating hand.
Pry with fiber your course through sand,
point your whole body toward the unknown,
away from the dead.
Be water and light and land,
no contrivance, no gasp, no dream
where there is no head.

Mark Wunderlich is the author of The Anchorage, which received the 1999 Lambda Literary Award. He has new poems forthcoming in the Paris Review, Boston Review, Nerve, Fence, and elsewhere. He is currently a visiting professor of creative writing at Ohio University.