They were the local Ohio palm, tropic in the heat of trains.
They could grow in anything—pitch, whole grain,
cinders, ash and rust, the dirt
dumped back of the foundry, what
the men wore home. Little willows,
they were made to be brushed back by the traffic of boxcars
the way wind will dust the shade
of the small part of a river.—They'd
go from almost green to almost gray with each long passing,
each leaf, each branch a stain
on the winded air. They were too thin
for rain—nothing could touch them.
So we'd start with pocketknives, cutting and whittling them down,
from willow, palm, or any other name.
They were what they looked like. Horsewhip, whipweed.
They could lay on a fine welt if you wanted.
And on a hot, dry day, July, they could all but burn.
At a certain age you try to pull all kinds of things
out of the ground, out of the loose gravel thrown by trains.
Or break off what you can and cut it clean.
Stanley Plumly, "Tree Ferns" from Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2000 by Stanley Plumly. Reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, www.harpercollins.com.
Source: Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me: New and Selected Poems
(HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2000)