Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year Elizabeth ALexander installation of cut wallpaper, arm chair, rug 2016

Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year
Elizabeth ALexander
installation of cut wallpaper, arm chair, rug



Lines Approaching a Birthday

Days of rain. Days of rain on piles

of plowed snow spumed black
with grit.
                 Then, diluted sun and peony-
rumor, still unmoved in their silk slumber.

For a long time I believed the right words
could make a thing beautiful.

Maybe so: there is the low white
plaster of cloud, February’s unexalted

                     It will open soon,
into blue rib vault, and I with it, 

open the way a spade
                                  opens earth.

The way a crane opens a church.

Sleep for now, child,
like the tulip bulbs tucked
                                         in their dormant dark,
sounded by cold rain.

You by my chandelier heart.



Descent (Sort of An Annunciation)

At the tree’s tip the hawk folds
his massive dust-colored wings
and casts his yellow eyes
like a line upon the fields,
crisp and blue in the season’s first frost.
He is not a dove,
though when he descends
it will be with the velocity
of van Eyck’s dove
toward Mary’s crown.
The cars on this highway
do not slow to look.
The world is always moving,
and nearly everything in it.
There was morning,
and there was evening, the story goes.
And the animals, and the man’s tongue
in his strange mouth naming them.
The first work is to speak.
Why, then, when I saw you
in your shadowclouds
on the screen, webbed and froglike,
your one heart a nucleus
of trembling—why could I not?
Perhaps that is what the hawk’s eye
roves for—how it knows what unstill thing
to pursue. (I was afraid. Afraid of our oneness,
my ability to save you
from nothing.) And finding the quickening
in the smallest grassblade shadow
it dives, a descent upon which
everything depends, morning and evening
and the name of the creature
in the crosshairs of that yellow eye,
now terrified
into the rest of its life.




Just as I’m leaving,
after three more
one more kisses, your teacher
pulls the alarm. Fire
Safety Week. You and the other
two-year-olds file out,
singing the fire truck song.
Every week on the news
a man has taken
his gun and his plan
somewhere new.
This morning you asked
for a blue bow—not pink—
and your blonde hair
splays around it now,
a ribbon paperweight
against the wind.
The alarm sounds the drama
of flame, and you enact
your escape pageant
to the far reach of the play area,
where all wiggling ten of you
line against the chain link fence
and your teacher points
a camera, calling smile,
for the Fire Safety Wall.
In the movie you love
about the Great Barrier Reef
the father fish warns his son
to stay away from the drop-off
lest he be taken or lost.
The father is neurotic
and right. The son is taken.
I wonder how many bullets
can fit through the eyelet
barrier of that fence.
I should run
to the fence and scream
that you’d all be safer
in the fire
and kiss you one more time.
Instead I pray
it will always be a rehearsal.
Instead I know
it will not, and I drive
away anyway. In seven hours,
when I return, you show me
the picture you colored of fire,
orange and yellow and wet
with red, the paper torn through
in three places where you pressed
so hard, so happy,
that it broke.

Chelsea Wagenaar is the author of MERCY SPURS THE BONE, selected by Philip Levine as the 2013 winner of the Levine Prize. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Poetry Northwest, Cave Wall, The Southern Review, and Boulevard, and her nonfiction appears in Grist. She earned a PhD from the University of North Texas and currently teaches at Valparaiso University as a postdoctoral Lilly Fellow. She lives in Indiana with her husband, poet Mark Wagenaar, their daughter, and their son, who is due in May 2018.