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Kunitz

 

Stanley Kunitz
1905-2006

"The
Testing-Tree"

 

1
On my way home from school
      up tribal Providence Hill
           past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
      I scuffed in the drainage ditch
           among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
      rolled out of glacial time
           into my pitcher's hand;
then sprinted lickety-
      split on my magic Keds
           from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
      with my flying skin
           as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
      over that stretch of road,
           with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
      that on the given course
           I was the world's fastest human.

2
Around the bend
      that tried to loop me home
           dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
      riddled with rabbit-life
           where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
      and a stringy old lilac
           more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
      remembered a door in the
           long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
      brushing the stickseed off,
           wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel's hair,
      spotting the print of the deer
           and the red fox's scats.
Once I owned the key
      to an umbrageous trail
           thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
      gave me right of passage
           as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
      soundlessly heel-and-toe
           practicing my Indian walk.

3
Past the abandoned quarry
      where the pale sun bobbed
           in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
      where the ferns gave foothold,
           I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
      with the stones in my pocket
           changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
      to the slightest leaf-stir.
           I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
      at fifty measured paces,
           of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
      Jehovah of acorns,
           watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip's War
      in its annulated core
           under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
      I have only three throws
           bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
      while the air flowed saffron,
           I played my game for keeps
for love, for poetry,
      and for eternal life
           after the trials of summer.

4
In the recurring dream
      my mother stands
           in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
      with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
           Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
      she is wearing an owl's face
           and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
      I pass through the cardboard doorway
           askew in the field
and peer down a well
      where an albino walrus huffs.
           He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
      staining the water yellow,
           why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
      That single Model A
           sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
      where the tanks maneuver,
           revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
      the heart breaks and breaks
           and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
      through dark and deeper dark
           and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail
.       Where is my testing-tree?
           Give me back my stones!

© Stanley Kunitz
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