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Encounter

by
 Those who have touched it or been touched by it
Or brushed by something that the vine has brushed,
Or burning it, have stood where the sly smoke
Has touched them-Know the meaning of its name.
The leaf is smooth.
Its green is innocence.
A clean, unblemished leaf, glossy when young.
A leaf the unobserving might overlook And the observing find too prosperous.
I've seen a vine of it so old and crooked It held a hen-coop in its grip, the stalk Thick as a man's wrist.
There it had grown, Half out of sight, permitted, undisturbed.
Strangers to it, who on a autumn road Have found a vine that swept a tree like fire And gathered it barehanded and brought it home For color, seldom gathered it again.
Some are immune and some have thought they were And some, ever so cautiously with gloves, Finding that it grew to near their homes, Have tried to root it out and have succeeded Except that something from the vine fastened Upon their flesh and burned, and in a year Or two the vine itself was there again, Glossy and green and smooth and innocent.
My neighbor's cow grazing beside the road Munches with joy (and almost with a smile) The salad of its leaves, transmuting them Into sweet milk that I will drink tomorrow.

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