David Wagoner

D
David Wagoner
The Cherry Tree
Out of the nursery and into the garden
where it rooted and survived its first hard winter,
then a few years of freedom while it blossomed,
put out its first tentative branches, withstood
the insects and the poisons for insects,
developed strange ideas about its height
and suffered the pruning of its quirks and clutters,
its self-indulgent thrusts
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Peacock Display
He approaches her, trailing his whole fortune,
Perfectly cocksure, and suddenly spreads
The huge fan of his tail for her amazement.

Each turquoise and purple, black-horned, walleyed quill
Comes quivering forward, an amphitheatric shell
For his most fortunate audience: her alone.

He plumes himself. He shakes his brassily gold
Wings and rump in a dance, lifting his claws
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The Best Slow Dancer
Under the sagging clotheslines of crepe paper
By the second string of teachers and wallflowers
In the school gym across the key through the glitter
Of mirrored light three-second rule forever
Suspended you danced with her the best slow dancer
Who stood on tiptoe who almost wasn’t there
In your arms like music she knew just how to answer
The question mark of your spine your hand in hers
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Their Bodies
To the students of anatomy
at Indiana University That gaunt old man came first, his hair as white
As your scoured tables. Maybe you’ll recollect him
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For a Student Sleeping in a Poetry Workshop
I've watched his eyelids sag, spring open
Vaguely and gradually go sliding
Shut again, fly up
With a kind of drunken surprise, then wobble
Peacefully together to send him
Home from one school early. Soon his lashes
Flutter in REM sleep. I suppose he's dreaming
What all of us kings and poets and peasants
Have dreamed: of not making the grade,
Of draining the inexhaustible horn cup
Of the cerebral cortex where ganglions
Are ganging up on us with more connections
Than atoms in heaven, but coming up once more
Empty. I see a clear stillness
Settle over his face, a calming of the surface
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For Laurel and Hardy on My Workroom Wall
They’re tipping their battered derbies and striding forward
In step for a change, chipper, self-assured,
Their cardboard suitcases labeled
Guest of Steerage. They’ve just arrived at the boot camp
Of the good old French Foreign Legion
Which they’ve chosen as their slice of life
Instead of drowning themselves. Once again
They’re about to become their own mothers and fathers
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In Rubble
Right after the bomb, even before the ceiling
And walls and floor are rearranging
You and themselves into a different world,
You must hold still, must wait for them
To settle down in unpredictable ways,
To bring their wars, shuddering,
To an end, and only then should you begin
Numbly to feel what freedom may be left
To your feet or knees, to your elbows
Or clenched fingers. Where you used to walk
Or lean or lie down or fix your attention
At a whim or stomp your foot
Or slump in a chair, you'll find a new
Architecturally unsound floor-plan
To contend with, if you can move
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That Child
That child was dangerous. That just-born
Newly washed and silent baby
Wrapped in deerskin and held warm
Against the side of its mother could understand
The language of birds and animals
Even when asleep. It knew why Bluejay
Was scolding the bushes, what Hawk was explaining
To the wind on the cliffside, what Bittern had found out
While standing alone in marsh grass. It knew
What the screams of Fox and the whistling of Otter
Were telling the forest. That child knew
The language of Fire
As it gnawed at sticks like Beaver
And what Water said all day and all night
At the creek's mouth. As its small fingers
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