“At Bottom (May 1982)” by Herman Asarnow

Herman Asarnow


A few years later you had me take you
by hand through the neighborhood,
slowly, so you could squat to inspect
the johnny-jump-ups, soak your eyes
in the hedges of red azaleas, tilt your little torso,
then thrust your nose into rhododendron ruffles
and to the pepper in the dregs of the tulip’s cup.

Get to the bottom of things, the sacred beginnings
an indelible inscription I’d have passed on to you
had I never picked up a pen or sat like this
before a screen, trying to illuminate what we share,
hoping to say something you can carry along
as you prepare your first leave-taking,
having grown past us like the spindly red maple

we planted at your birth that’s now shot by
our bedroom window, quick as its May-green
leaves fluttered by the new century’s vernal wind.
I ride its fragrance back: your first night home
we waited for your cry in the blue-black hours.
It filled the dark when I shuffled wide-eyed
across the creaking floor to your crib,

when I lifted you to the new changing table,
leaned over you—your lips red petals parted
in a wail, your mouth an open cup of the loudest flower—
when I followed directions inscribed in us long before
we would ever think to do such things
and thrust my nose into its corolla,
breathed in your still celestial breath.

from Rattle #19, Summer 2003


Herman Asarnow: “I write because want is most real to me. Desire and lack set off the synapse’s snap, the endless migration of birds.” (book)

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