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Walter Bargen

The Price of Palm Trees
–for Larry and Michelle

The currency of palms rockets fronds
into green bursts above the city,
their blades slicing the burnished evening
light into finer shadows. The air brassy
in its silent glistening like the spider-cracked
lacquer on ancient Chinese boxes.
The warm breeze entering off the desert,
comforts our breathing. We inhale lizard
and cactus, acres of stones relaxing
with the day's heat. The sharp-sheathed
trunks prop up an exotic clarity
in this vast sage-scented space.

And there is the currency of palms planted
along medians: the endless necklace of traffic
pulling tight in both directions, the braking ruby
glitter scattering for miles, leading to tract
homes stacked on desiccated hillsides
and balanced on the edge of arroyos.
Regal rows of rising rough bark.
Backhoed into place, roots submerged
into sand and volcanic debris, to convince
us that we are graceful in this graced life.

A friend, who knew the price of paradise
is dead now, alone in his house
for days when it happened, missed by
his friends who went to find him,
and did, slumped in a chair, as if he were
recalling the palm tree that he woke
to in his youth, where a rat ascended
the razor-edged bark to a hole that it freely
entered and left, its whiskered snout catching
the afternoon light, framed by the oval darkness
behind it, as if it too had a proud lineage
and only needed a wall on which to be hung
or a night stand on which to sit and gather
dust as proof of our daily settling,
and daily he watched the ritual climb,
still drowsy from his nap, yet years later
he wondered if there had really been a rat,
or even a palm, but he became certain
that the rat was the soul of that palm
framed by his screened window.

Under the vast pane of polar ice,
meteorites are found hinting
of other lost and more lonely places,
where W.W. II fighters are excavated,
damaged only by the massive pressures
of cold, their war frozen to perfection,
where purity of form is grandiose
and mundane as six months of daylight
and six months of darkness, where the mummified
seal and human are stark aberrations
against Hobbes? snowy tabla rasa,
and under skies of blue ice epoch-old palms
swayed into stone, their rats all gone
to bone and less, the price paid.

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