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Quick as dawn, the dogwoods have raised
improbable awnings, christened with rain.
Thrusts of witch-hazel, stands of rue,
and there—there, across the stream,
in the shade of those dark-lichened rocks—
white phlox and geranium strain
to reach the angled light. One bright
morning, a clean April day,
amazes familiar paths with a green
tangle and baizes the winter’s strain.

Faster each Easter, my daughter flies
past tumbled mounds where brambles grow.
The bloodroot flowers near her feet
as delicate as bible leaves,
and slow, persistent ivy kindles
on old trees. The year will know
a fresh redemption—burning green,
the greenwood grows—till ash
and thorn fall back to sleep,
counterpaned again with snow.

Beneath such trees, with hand and knife,
cold priests once tried to wake the leaf,
the root, the branch—the frozen world
that needs warm life for spring.
A lamb, a child: the shrouds of snow
would melt in their fresh blood, as grief
by grief, pain revenged by pain,
we paid the sacrificial debt
that swells with each repaying death.
And where shall we look for love’s relief?

My daughter runs by the brief flowers:
touch-me-nots among the stones,
bluebells and sorrels, solomon’s seal.
Every spring pretends a pity
for all the pretty, short-lived things.
Last night I watched the fire zones,
the bombing plumes, the tracer rounds:
blooms of war on the TV news.
And now in these green trees I see
the graves of gods and a grove of bones.

History labors, a worn machine
sick with torsion, ill-meshed,
and every repair of an old fault
ruptures something new. The sacred
knife and prey are gone from the woods,
but winter’s blood still springs refreshed
and an altered world still summons death.
As long as we endure ourselves,
innocence will come to grief
and mercy must remain unfleshed.

The parish bells begin their carols,
down through the trees like flourished prayer
the Easter call resounding. Time
reaches forward, hungry for winter,
and what will save my daughter when even
hope is caught in the ancient snare?
A cold fear waits—till all that had fallen,
all that was lost, rudely broken,
crossed in love, comes rising, rising,
on the breath of the new spring air.

Joseph Bottum

Image by Pxfuel licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.