Tree Fern
A documentary brushed in passing against
technology: it seems that all the negatives
from the Civil war--the candid images of carnage,
the posed ones of resolution--
were set on glass plates, heavy
with unaccustomed fact.
All of what no one wanted to see
once it was over (they had the prints
in any case) but glass was scarce
and nights were cold for the young plants,
and the orchids which were coming into fashion.
They built greenhouses with panes of history
(but their information in any case was hard to retrieve,
the naked eye especially in those days
being poor at the trick of reversing black to white).
It was all ghostly, but slowly
as they magnified the sun for the green,
graphite-smelling denizens, they grew fainter--
leached their honor and disfigurements
into the humid air.
Or perhaps the leaves drank them;
perhaps the plants remembered.
In another century, I saw the near-tetanic strain
in the arch of a fern too large to call a fern.
Next yearŐs growth fumed in its center, a fist
determined not to be uncurled.
Not to be tricked by sunlight and information
into the vulnerable grace of the diver committed,
the lover declared--the one who has accepted
that all light shines through the dead
in any case, bleaching the air as much as glass,
that the whole world breathes
the black-toothed ghosts of history--
and still says shine on me: with all I know
may come again, let me extend--
let me be warm.

Cyd Harrell, 2002. All rights reserved.
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