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The Testing-Tree

I.

On my way home from school
   up tribal Providence Hill
   past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
   I scuffed in the drainage-ditch
   among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
   rolled out of glacial time
   into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
   split on my magic Keds
   from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
   with my flying skin
   as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
   over that stretch of road,
   with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
   that on the given course
   I was the world’s fastest human.

II.

Around the bend
   that tried to loop me home
   dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
   riddled with rabbit-life
   where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
   and a stringy old lilac
   more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
   remembered a door in the
   long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
   brushing the stickseed off,
   wading through jewel-weed
strangled by angel’s hair,
   spotting the print of the deer
   and the red fox’s scats.

Once I owned the key
   to an umbrageous trail
   thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
   gave me right of passage
   as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit,
   soundlessly heel-and-toe
   practicing my Indian walk.

III.

Past the abandoned quarry
   where the pale sun bobbed
   in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
   where the ferns gave foothold,
   I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
   with the stones in my pocket
   changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
   to the slightest leaf-stir.
   I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
   at fifty measured paces,
   of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
   Jehovah of acorns,
   watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
   in its annulated core
   under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are I have only three throws bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon
   while the air flowed saffron,
   I played my game for keeps—
for love, for poetry,
   and for eternal life—
   after the trials of summer.

IV.

In the recurring dream
   my mother stands
   in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
   with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
   Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
   she is wearing an owl’s face
   and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
   I pass through the cardboard doorway
   askew in the field
and peer down a well
   where an albino walrus huffs.
   He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
   staining the water yellow,
   why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
   That single Model A
   sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
   where the tanks maneuver,
   revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
   the heart breaks and breaks
   and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
   through dark and deeper dark,
   and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
   Where is my testing-tree?
   Give me back my stones!

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