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Barbara Bowen Barbara Bowen


The Keeper

The remains of mice—limp
ornaments, a shrike's calling card—still hang
on the barbed wire fence.

From my cellar door,
I scrape greens, white, blues, grays,
a century of hues. Which are lethal?

What is it in me swings toward
sadness, a compass
tugged true north?

I asked the gnostics to teach me.
You must knock, they said,
and not knuckle under.

As a grouse flew up from the grass,
the sunset behind it, I saw light
through its wing.

And this morning I watched honeybees swarm
in a sycamore tree on Central Park South, a keeper appeared
and gathered up the swarm into his arms.


The Lily

For Matt

I wrap my fingertips
around the lily's rust-colored pollen pads
and pluck them

with a soft snap, they fall
into my hand.

All day
the dye of ochre-colored germ
stains my palm, in spite of soap,
in spite of rubbing. I like it,

as I once liked
your stain upon my clothes, its smell
on my skin, sometimes
I didn't wash.

I was taught to take the lily's
anthers off, so they wouldn't soil
the tablecloth, the clothes

of anyone whose passing brought her
close enough to brush against the flower's dye.
Were we any less

amazing than this lily, staining
each other as we did?