Some images mean nothing,
Like the mound of bulbous mushrooms
On a kitchen table,
Or the pot of black-eyed peas
Simmering on an electric range,
Or the sweat puddled on a dying man’s chest
As cool air seeps through a metal screen.
Or even the way a fly lands on a page of sheet music
On my desk–The Girl from Ipanema—
As if the notes might have been a swarm of its comrades
Shambling up a ladder.
It wanders, looking,
Stops and buffs the underside of a wing
With its foreleg
Then darts up under the lampshade,
As if it and I had seen enough.
Genocide and climate change,
God pulling the plug.
And then there was
Emperor Shi Huang Di
Who lived and reigned
While Hannibal was still scaring the crap
Out of Rome.
Shi, who built the first Great Wall of China,
Burned books and buried scholars alive.
I don’t know why I think of him this May evening,
As my wife and I,
Out for a walk,
Try to locate the source of a sweet fragrance
That hangs in isolated random clouds
Like elusive intimations of heaven,
Gone before you fully grasp.
So we amble down the street sniffing,
Trespass into yards to put our faces close
To this shrub or that flower.
Emperor Shi Huang Di was the first to unite China
And codify the pictographs,
He was the one who made a toy army
Of 6000 life-sized and fully-outfitted terracotta soldiers,
Complete with swords and crossbows,
Some on horseback,
And then buried them.
By trial and error we learned
The fragrance came not from the newly-bloomed peonies,
And not the irises,
And not the cotoneaster,
Nor the wild roses.
The smell, we finally deduced,
Was wafting down from a honey locust tree
In the yard of a neighbor we’ve never met.
And so we went to sleep
And I dreamed of a dog burying a bone.