“Here We Were Happy” by Rebecca Starks

Rebecca Starks


And still I fall back on the garden
like a firebreak, as if its walls might contain
the inferno sweeping through paradise,
except this time they were given no warning
because god is the municipal government,
and the tree of knowledge is one of three
thousand palm trees planted from seed
and doused with dishwater until they can live
off the rain, and Adam and Eve are the poet
and his wife whose palms cupped the earth
like a child’s face, like water, saving with love
what was ruined by improvement, until
they turned back to ashes laid beneath a stone,
because the tree of life is a banyan tree
whose roots were hung with jars of water
and whose fruit is barely edible, famine food,
and even this wasn’t spared by the flames
sparked by the flaming swords of angels
who guard the memory of what they destroy,
which are mostly faces, and the begots are us,
shameless as the first begetters
professing innocence while stumbling on
comparison: it is like war, like a bomb went off
to which the voice from the whirlwind replies
Have you ever blown the top off a mountain
or changed the tilt of the earth?
Have you ever stoked the dragon’s breath
with burning grass, or hacked sugarcane by hand?
Have you ever blacked out the moon
so you could see the stars and the stars
so you could see your own blindness?
And the snake? you ask. The snake
is the stardust between them. No,
the snake is the words on the stone.

from Poets Respond
August 13, 2023


Rebecca Starks: “It is hard to write about the fires in Maui as they are happening and in the face of the terrible loss of life. I took refuge in W.S. Merwin’s palm garden on Maui. The title echoes the words on the stone marking his and his wife’s ashes.” (web)

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