Three Poems for Autumn

September 13, 2017
Gillie Rhodes, “Log pile,” November 7, 2009
Gillie Rhodes, “Log pile,” November 7, 2009

Late Autumn 

A butterfly searches our garden plants for blossoms
  I don’t see. Flitting, almost lurching, it lands
    at last on a barren branch as if exhausted
      and now sits perfectly still. Nectar days

are clearly at an end, yet it looks

      like a blossom itself, like a little Buddha
    in the year’s last light. Perhaps it finds
  the flower of consciousness, when wing-petals
awaken and lift above our stems in buttered flight. 


Stage IV

            For Drs. Day, O’Brien, and Sharma at MUSC, Charleston, SC

There are no sidewalks in our neighborhood,
just lawns that reach to gutters along our streets
where each morning we would see him shuffle by,
his bone-slats body draped in shirt and slacks,
and his face as taut as lampshade skin.
He strained to move as though he dragged
a sack of rocks behind him.
In the heart’s core, the small white pilot
light of life must not give up, and so
each day he rose by force of will
to live, against the downward pull
of measured poisons heavy in his blood,
and purpled radiation burns along his neck,
and the long fresh wounds the surgeon left.

At night the earthworms in our lawns emerge
to crawl in the open air, free from struggling
through the soil, and safe from the flaring sun.
Some venture from the dew-moist grass
to crawl along our streets, but blind,
they only feel their way and fail to reach
the lawns again by dawn. Each day
he’d find them dragging at his feet, lost
and covered in dust, and soon to die on streets
that get as hot as griddles in the summer heat.
Weak as he was, we’d see him stoop
to find a little twig or stem-end of a fallen leaf,
and use it like a staff to lift the little beings
to the green pastures where they belonged and longed to be.
We’d see this every day. Every day we’d see
his little acts of kindness, his earnest wordless prayer. 


Stopping at a T-Intersection in Late Autumn

At a stop sign on a country road,
I pull to the side, turn my headlights
and engine off, and listen to the quiet
as sunset’s embers whisper on the hearth’s horizon.
Reddened cloud-clumps darken to bruise
as the blues deepen in last light. Trees,
leafless, print their line of hieroglyphs
against the smoldering sky. What do they say?
I wonder, as I have always wondered.
I know that heartwood lies at the center of each,
wrapped in rings from years of silent reaching,
and I see now that my road ends here,
here at the side of another. Why should I turn
west or east? Warming myself in last light,
I am amazed that at the heart of things,
a child swaddled in years is content to go nowhere,
rocking in place, rocking to sleep,
on the edge of eternity.

Fred Dings’s books of poetry include Eulogy for a Private Man (TriQuarterly Books), After the Solstice (Orchises Press), and two chapbooks, Vespers and The Bruised Sky. The poems featured here are part of his newly completed third full-length collection, not yet submitted for publication. Dings teaches in the MFA program at the University of South Carolina.