Friday, July 01, 2011

`A Small Wind Above Them, a Sleepy Cloud, Silence'

I resume my job at Rice University today but spent much of Thursday morning on campus, completing paper work and catching up with friends. On the desk in my office, propped against a basket of tomatoes from my boss’ farm, was a “Wild Flowers of Texas” postcard mailed to me by a reader in Dallas. On the front are pictures of Indian paintbrush, prickley [sic] pear cactus, claret cup cactus, cholla and desert willow. My reader writes:

“Welcome back. With the exception of the thistle and the Indian paintbrush (perhaps), I don’t think you’ll find these around Houston.”
He’s right. Northerners envision Texas as a vast desert interrupted by oil wells and cowboys, but climates within the state range from subtropical to arid. Indian paintbrushes I haven’t seen since my return but thistles are common. I saw hundreds growing along a railroad spur, near a crossing where day laborers collect to wait for farm work. Cynthia Haven reminds us Thursday was the centenary of the birth of Czesław Miłosz, which reminds me of “The Thistle, the Nettle” (translated by Miłosz and Robert Hass, Selected Poems 1931-2004):
“The thistle, the nettle, the burdock, and belladonna
Have a future. Theirs are wastelands
And rusty railroad tracks, the sky, silence.

“Who shall I be for men many generations later?
When, after the clamor of tongues, the award goes to silence?

“I was to be redeemed by the gift of arranging words
But must be prepared for an earth without a grammar,

“For the thistle, the nettle, the burdock, and the belladonna,
And a small wind above them, a sleepy cloud, silence.”

As I write Thursday evening, the sun is low and blinding, and the temperature in the backyard is one-hundred degrees. Mourning doves call from the live oak, “And a small wind above them, a sleepy cloud, silence.”

1 comment:

Cynthia Haven said...

Great poem, Patrick! Thanks for pointing it out.

Gerry Hadden included one I hadn't really noticed before, "Youth," in the comments section of my post for the birthday boy.

One nice side effect of the centenary is discovering all these poems that somehow I'd passed over in earlier readings.

By the way, the link you included is broken. You might try this one: