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When Lilacs Last

One spring my mother and I collected
long twigs and put them in an empty tin can
to make a tree on which to hang Easter eggs—
real ones, which had been emptied of life
and dyed bright chemical colors (yellow, orange
and lime-green).

We put water in the can to weigh it down,
and after a few weeks buds pushed out
on the branches: soon leaves unfurled.
It was a paschal mystery, Aaron's staff in the ark
of the covenant that was our front porch.

Lilacs bloomed.

After a while the tin rusted,
the water turned blood-red, the green leaves
withered and we solemnly placed the dead
branches by the edge of the road.

I am telling you this story because
it is autumn as I write this and I cannot
tell if your eyes (into which I only
occasionally look) are old or new.
I think they are in that narrow place;
the moment just before everything
changes, and the very fact that we exist
at all seems a miracle beyond reckoning,
far lovelier than a lilac gently resting
against an empty green eggshell.

Please don't imagine yourself anywhere
that isn't fragile or barely real, don't
ever think for a moment that you are too
young or too old to be alive. I am not sure
if this life is impossibly beautiful because
it happened or impossibly tragic for the same reason,
but I do know it is impossible, and I don't think
I should have to choose.


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