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Cursive Landscape

In the reverse psychology of earnestness, more

suddenly meant less. Every tear was a crocodile

hanging from the underlid.

Every nose had its neat dot of moisture.

And for wisdom, there was the Dali Lama.

Who would have thought that a sensible scheme

put down in print would be more sensible yet?

In the sharpened districts where we lived we lived

our little lives, skating on the flat tops

of torn tree trunks divided from root.

What little ledges.

What arrogance was required for each inbreath.

We were offended by the vaguer terms: something,

anywhere, every. Nothing. By the vaguer scenes

seen through windows.

Lives our lives would never touch.

Everything asked. Nothing given.

The grand trees stood guard over a tan and green blank.

To each, the trees meant differently.

To one they were oranges. To another they were branches

divided into a family

frenzy. A sotted father swaying

in the height over a too-small trunk.

Children laughing up into it

with their cruel manners and mud-smeared faces.

To the last, they were color gone bad

in the late November plentiful sorrow.

Tomorrow they would be nothing. Lean against

haven for the breathless and senseless. Houses

for the harried. Squirrels.

A dog barking at the bottom of one.

Once she saw some

uprooted. Like herself laid down into restlessness.

They were breaking her heart she said.

Leafing flattened into feeling. She felt

them falling she said. And turned.

Later we would say it was a golden age,

a dazzling epoch, and if the trees were slight

in their part it wasn’t our fault. Every truth

like no other. No nothing was ever our fault.

Jean Dubuffet, "Paysage cursif (Cursive Landscape),"

Colored crayons and felt tip pen on paper, 1974


Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang is the author of seven collections of poems. She teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.


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