Just Before the Fall
Once this side of the field was cleared
of sumac all the way back to the wall,
the sprawling japonica was beaten back
to where the mower could keep it in check.
Dead limbs were lopped, grape unravelled,
leaves raked, and all laid neatly on the pile.
Each year a little more in order, the yard
expanded outward like the progress
of empire, as shown on successive
overlays in World Book Encyclopedia.
There was a fenced garden square, new
ornamentals, a Buddha shaded by lilac.
And so it stayed for a while, the way
the tide hangs at the high water mark
for a beat, neither rising nor falling,
while you moon contentedly at the beauty
of the sea. So the Romans must have felt
within the pristine marble of Constantinople.
But in these latter days, the signs of decline
are clear, sumac and japonica resurgent,
whole pine trees that lie where they fell.
Buddha leans now on his overgrown plinth,
like a ruin of Numenor in the wastes
of Middle Earth. The tide turned long ago.
Slow retreat has taken sway, the outer
provinces sacrificed to bulwark the center.
I now concede the stone wall will never
be re-squared, the unpruned apple will give
its small blemished bounty to the deer.
It was hubris to ever think otherwise.
The sugar maple turns early, as grandiose
a display as any I might have devised. The sun
is just as warm where the wraparound deck
might have been. Drowsing in this buttery light,
I can’t recall now why I ever turned conquistador,
or later, turned away from the far frontier.