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Contemporary Poetry and Poetics



SUN GEMS (CA. 1864-1865)

Location unknown

                          —The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade:
                            A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raissone
                            by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr.,  (2000) p. 286

Nothing remains as it was.
Who can say it should be otherwise? 
In another life, I walked with a woman I loved
through an orchard in New Hampshire,
in which 10,000 fireflies––Yes, I saw but did not
count them––blinked off-and-on in the trees.
Things remain at risk––this green earth, our lives.
We know fireflies from the stars only because
the stars have never left us. Years ago,
the forest in which these hummingbirds lived
was clear-cut for mahogany and rosewood.
Now, the land is gouged in muddy terraces,
where 1,000 men––here is a photograph––
dig each day, scratching deeper and deeper for gold.
When it rains, the flood cannot be raised
from its depths. What should we save––
a fallen world, or the life we are finally given to live?
Of his lost canvas, we know something of how it looks.
How the Sun Gems were posed––face-to-face on a branch,
their green and creamy bodies, the piano-key flare
of their tails, the tufts of orange, fused to either side
of the male’s head. Imagine the oil light, luminous
and tender, within which the painter worked,
his palette––the thin wood shingle upon which
the peony-red, the lamp-black, and the oxides of cinnabar
were smeared and mixed.
He worked for days on a single red flower, then
turned to the Spanish moss, hung morosely from the trees.
The female seems to say, In a secret place,
let us hide our love  for 100 years.


© by Greg Rappleye


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