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by Edgar Bowers |

Variations on an Elizabethan Theme

 Long days, short nights, this Southern summer 
Fixes the mind within its timeless place.
Athwart pale limbs the brazen hummer Hangs and is gone, warm sound its quickened space.
Butterfly weed and cardinal flower, Orange and red, with indigo the band, Perfect themselves unto the hour.
And blood suffused within the sunlit hand, Within the glistening eye the dew, Are slow with their slow moving.
Watch their passing, As lightly the shade covers you: All colors and all shapes enrich its massing.
Once I endured such gentle season.
Blood-root, trillium, sweet flag, and swamp aster— In their mild urgency, the reason Knew each and kept each chosen from disaster.
Now even dusk destroys; the bright Leucotho? dissolves before the eyes And poised upon the reach of light Leaves only what no reasoning dare surmise.
Dim isolation holds the sense Of being, intimate as breathing; around, Voices, unmeasured and intense, Throb with the heart below the edge of sound.


by Edgar Bowers |

Elegy: Walking the Line

 Every month or so, Sundays, we walked the line,
The limit and the boundary.
Past the sweet gum Superb above the cabin, along the wall— Stones gathered from the level field nearby When first we cleared it.
(Angry bumblebees Stung the two mules.
They kicked.
Thirteen, I ran.
) And then the field: thread-leaf maple, deciduous Magnolia, hybrid broom, and, further down, In light shade, one Franklinia Alatamaha In solstice bloom, all white, most graciously.
On the sunnier slope, the wild plums that my mother Later would make preserves of, to give to friends Or sell, in autumn, with the foxgrape, quince, Elderberry, and muscadine.
Around The granite overhang, moist den of foxes; Gradually up a long hill, high in pine, Park-like, years of dry needles on the ground, And dogwood, slopes the settlers terraced; pine We cut at Christmas, berries, hollies, anise, And cones for sale in Mister Haymore’s yard In town, below the Courthouse Square.
James Haymore, One of the two good teachers at Boys’ High, Ironic and demanding, chemistry; Mary Lou Culver taught us English: essays, Plot summaries, outlines, meters, kinds of clauses (Noun, adjective, and adverb, five at a time), Written each day and then revised, and she Up half the night to read them once again Through her pince-nez, under a single lamp.
Across the road, on a steeper hill, the settlers Set a house, unpainted, the porch fallen in, The road a red clay strip without a bridge, A shallow stream that liked to overflow.
Oliver Brand’s mules pulled our station wagon Out of the gluey mire, earth’s rust.
Then, here And there, back from the road, the specimen Shrubs and small trees my father planted, some Taller than we were, some in bloom, some berried, And some we still brought water to.
We always Paused at the weed-filled hole beside the beech That, one year, brought forth beech nuts by the thousands, A hole still reminiscent of the man Chewing tobacco in among his whiskers My father happened on, who, discovered, told Of dreaming he should dig there for the gold And promised to give half of what he found.
During the wars with Germany and Japan, Descendents of the settlers, of Oliver Brand And of that man built Flying Fortresses For Lockheed, in Atlanta; now they build Brick mansions in the woods they left, with lawns To paved and lighted streets, azaleas, camellias Blooming among the pines and tulip trees— Mercedes Benz and Cadillac Republicans.
There was another stream further along Divided through a marsh, lined by the fence We stretched to posts with Mister Garner’s help The time he needed cash for his son’s bail And offered all his place.
A noble spring Under the oak root cooled his milk and butter.
He called me “honey,” working with us there (My father bought three acres as a gift), His wife pale, hair a country orange, voice Uncanny, like a ghost’s, through the open door Behind her, chickens scratching on the floor.
Barred Rocks, our chickens; one, a rooster, splendid Sliver and grey, red comb and long sharp spurs, Once chased Aunt Jennie as far as the daphne bed The two big king snakes were familiars of.
My father’s dog would challenge him sometimes To laughter and applause.
Once, in Stone Mountain, Travelers, stopped for gas, drove off with Smokey; Angrily, grievingly, leaving his work, my father Traced the car and found them way far south, Had them arrested and, bringing Smokey home, Was proud as Sherlock Holmes, and happier.
Above the spring, my sister’s cats, black Amy, Grey Junior, down to meet us.
The rose trees, Domestic, Asiatic, my father’s favorites.
The bridge, marauding dragonflies, the bullfrog, Camellias cracked and blackened by the freeze, Bay tree, mimosa, mountain laurel, apple, Monkey pine twenty feet high, banana shrub, The owls’ tall pine curved like a flattened S.
The pump house Mort and I built block by block, Smooth concrete floor, roof pale aluminum Half-covered by a clematis, the pump Thirty feet down the mountain’s granite foot.
Mort was the hired man sent to us by Fortune, Childlike enough to lead us.
He brought home, Although he could not even drive a tractor, Cheated, a worthless car, which we returned.
When, at the trial to garnishee his wages, Frank Guess, the judge, Grandmother’s longtime neighbor, Whose children my mother taught in Cradle Roll, Heard Mort’s examination, he broke in As if in disbelief on the bank’s attorneys: “Gentlemen, must we continue this charade?” Finally, past the compost heap, the garden, Tomatoes and sweet corn for succotash, Okra for frying, Kentucky Wonders, limas, Cucumbers, squashes, leeks heaped round with soil, Lavender, dill, parsley, and rosemary, Tithonia and zinnias between the rows; The greenhouse by the rock wall, used for cuttings In late spring, frames to grow them strong for planting Through winter into summer.
Early one morning Mort called out, lying helpless by the bridge.
His ashes we let drift where the magnolia We planted as a stem divides the path The others lie, too young, at Silver Hill, Except my mother.
Ninety-five, she lives Three thousand miles away, beside the bare Pacific, in rooms that overlook the Mission, The Riviera, and the silver range La Cumbre east.
Magnolia grandiflora And one druidic live oak guard the view.
Proudly around the walls, she shows her paintings Of twenty years ago: the great oak’s arm Extended, Zeuslike, straight and strong, wisteria Tangled among the branches, amaryllis Around the base; her cat, UC, at ease In marigolds; the weeping cherry, pink And white arms like a blessing to the blue Bird feeder Mort made; cabin, scarlet sweet gum Superb when tribes migrated north and south.
Alert, still quick of speech, a little blind, Active, ready for laughter, open to fear, Pity, and wonder that such things may be, Some Sundays, I think, she must walk the line, Aunt Jennie, too, if she were still alive, And Eleanor, whose story is untold, Their presences like muses, prompting me In my small study, all listening to the sea, All of one mind, the true posterity.


by Edgar Bowers |

Mary

 The angel of self-discipline, her guardian
Since she first knew and had to go away
From home that spring to have her child with strangers,
Sustained her, till the vanished boy next door
And her ordeal seemed fiction, and the true
Her mother’s firm insistence she was the mother
And the neighbors’ acquiescence.
So she taught school, Walking a mile each way to ride the street car— First books of the Aeneid known by heart, French, and the French Club Wednesday afternoon; Then summer replacement typist in an office, Her sister’s family moving in with them, Depression years and she the only earner.
Saturday, football game and opera broadcasts, Sunday, staying at home to wash her hair, The Business Women’s Circle Monday night, And, for a treat, birthdays and holidays, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald.
The young blond sister long since gone to college, Nephew and nieces gone, her mother dead, Instead of Caesar, having to teach First Aid, The students rowdy, she retired.
The rent For the empty rooms she gave to Thornwell Orphanage, Unwed Mothers, Temperance, and Foster Parents And never bought the car she meant to buy; Too blind at last to do much more than sit All day in the antique glider on the porch Listening to cars pass up and down the street.
Each summer, on the grass behind the house— Cape jasmine, with its scent of August nights Humid and warm, the soft magnolia bloom Marked lightly by a slow brown stain—she spread, For airing, the same small intense collection, Concert programs, worn trophies, years of yearbooks, Letters from schoolgirl chums, bracelets of hair And the same picture: black hair in a bun, Puzzled eyes in an oval face as young Or old as innocence, skirt to the ground, And, seated on the high school steps, the class, The ones to whom she would have said, “Seigneur, Donnez-nous la force de supporter La peine,” as an example easy to remember, Formal imperative, object first person plural.


by Edgar Bowers |

Dedication for a House

 We, who were long together homeless, raise
Brick walls, wood floors, a roof, and windows up
To what sustained us in those threatening days
Unto this end.
Alas, that this bright cup Be empty of the care and life of him Who should have made it overflow its brim.


by Edgar Bowers |

Amor Vincit Omnia

 Love is no more.
It died as the mind dies: the pure desire Relinquishing the blissful form it wore, The ample joy and clarity expire.
Regret is vain.
Then do not grieve for what you would efface, The sudden failure of the past, the pain Of its unwilling change, and the disgrace.
Leave innocence, And modify your nature by the grief Which poses to the will indifference That no desire is permanent in sense.
Take leave of me.
What recompense, or pity, or deceit Can cure, or what assumed serenity Conceal the mortal loss which we repeat? The mind will change, and change shall be relief.