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“I used to believe that there was a green stick,
buried on the edge of a ravine . . . on which
words were carved that would destroy all the
evil in the hearts of men and bring them
everything good.”

—Leo Tolstoy

When he was old, pate bald, skin sere.
Back humbled as the turtle’s
For all his prayer.
He remembered John the Baptist leapt
After locusts for his food;
That his wife had begged for ice cream.
Cried for the hundred leaping tongues,
The flame of chandelier in their Moscow home;
That his children once caught
    at the skirts of gnomic priests.
Constructed paper domes,
    and kissed the ikons whose almond-eyes
Fixed not on them but on God’s throne;
That in the evening, reading,
His wife hung words out
    like clothes upon a line;
That King Lear made him anxious.

Lev Tolstoi thumped his walking stick
Upon the path, moved on.
His thought fled to the cobbler’s trade.
To a green stick still buried in a glade.
To the trains that run east and west.

—Mary Freeman