--3 by James Wright
A First Day in Paris
Some twenty years ago I was still a young man. I did not know anything more about Paris than a small black-haired sea tern knows about inland mountain gardens on the first day of his life. All he does is gaze around him, puzzled at the solitary distances of the ocean. How many mountains I have flown across, how many nests I have lain down in and abandoned between the big American cities. Now I walk the gardens of the Tuileries. Here, a song tells me, some twenty years ago the chesnut buds in April were too heavy to bear themselves any longer. When a late frost fell on them, they suddenly shuddered in the night, and the next morning they opened, green as before, in spite of everything. The startled frost ran off and vanished, and the open blossoms turned white in their own good time. In Paris the natural world, alert and welcome in a moment to its own loveliness, offers a strange new face, as though God were creating it for the first time. Sometimes the women in the Tuileries grow so old they outlive death, and their shadows lie on chesnut leaves like sunlight.
I kneel above a single rail of the Baltimore and Ohio track. The little green snake lies there blazing on the steel. It is almost perfect noon. He has no shadow to cast anywhere. But even if it were twilight, he would have slight shade to cast. What can I do to join him? His face seems turned toward the fireweed along the track. I too turn my face and gaze at the fireweed along the track. The roots must be healthy. I sit back on the rail and see it burn. The garter snake does not seem troubled. He may not be gazing at the fireweed at all. We may be praying the same prayer. I hope not. I draw his face close to me, and he looks a little mournful, but not old, and not alone.
The First Days
Optima dies prima fugit
The first thing I saw in the morning
Was a huge golden bee ploughing
His burly right shoulder into the belly
Of a sleek yellow pear
Low on a bough.
Before he could find that sudden black honey
That squirms around in there
Inside the seed, the tree could not bear any more.
The pear fell to the ground,
With the bee still half alive
Inside its body.
He would have died if I hadn't knelt down
And sliced the pear gently
A little more open.
The bee shuddered, and returned.
Maybe I should have left him alone in there,
Drowning in his own delight.
The best days are the first
To flee, sang the lovely
Musician born in this town
So like my own.
I let the bee go
Among the gasworks at the edge of Mantua.