At the riveredge a pair of black swallowtails
interleaf with sycamore inexactly,
demonstrating which state of affairs made
Wittgenstein so queasy about names: no stick-um.
What keeps the whole tree from letting loose
a cloud of blue-laced wings this morning
occupies me, cured cold of adhesive
but cautious, a reformed drunk on the boulevard.
I still need to say this is this
for balance of a sort, each minute’s
equation teetering on the equals sign
like a pelican midharbor adjusting its load
of striped bass. Why else would it matter
to hit the thing so squarely?
Recognition extends the spectrum
a few doors down, any one of which may swing out
the one, the kitchen of metaphor.
It may not be a moral act.
Talking straight from the halfway house
my brother says he’s learned his pleasure
center’s maximum high’s temperature setting
operates to keep him running tilted
after candy, a/c blasting, windows sprung, can’t
do it, can’t cool the whole planet.
Fifty years or more my father’s carried
cancer seeds in his belly and his dreams at night
consume each waking thread
by thread but still he recalls polysyllabic
trophies won in grade-school spelling bees:
prints on me the diagnosis Stevens wrote,
an exquisite appositeness that takes away
verbality. What means, means, if we can bear it.
His eyes say more, but you just try
instructing desire. I know this is the word
for what I’ve got.
Karen Donovan’s first book of poems, Fugitive Red, won the Juniper Prize and was published by University of Massachusetts Press. Her new collection, Your Enzymes Are Calling the Ancients, won the Lexi Rudnitsky Editor’s Choice Award from Persea Books and is forthcoming in 2016. Donovan was co-editor of ¶: A Magazine of Paragraphs, a journal of short prose published by Oat City Press, and she has had work most recently in Blackbird, Conjunctions, and Diagram. She works as a writer in Providence.