Cleaning Up

The cattails curve in the wind and sigh
like the blues a nature god, out-raced,
once played on the reeds to temper his lust.

We hear it in West Texas too, as we tread
the edge of a reed-thick playa lake
in the midst of a city park, its chainlink

definitions of dog run, tennis court, municipal pool.
This pond, even as it functions
as an urban sump, remains a haven

for migrants—sedge wren, bittern;
and my daughter and I, who return
to this spot, year after year, as she grows

and I age. Today, a breezy spring equinox,
we’re here with other volunteers to gather trash.
She mentions, too, she hopes to see an egret.

Like egrets we stalk, stab at the mud
for multicolor morsels of plastic, potsherds
of a civilization toxic with refuse.

A harvest of soda cans, styrofoam—
the indigestible jetsam of fast-food lunches—
and here and there, tokens of more personal life.

Unmatched sandals, a stroller wheel, two bras,
a sun-blanched photo of a ghost; a bottle
of prosecco, still new, emptied of what praise,

or love, or arguments it held; a fishing rod
snapped in two. Things rejected, lost,
used once and tossed—we gather

no after no after no. No god or goddess.
No egrets. Another hour to go,
and bored, I try imagining hope

—as if hope were some plastic bag
I could snag with the tongs, and hang it
on one of these fence poles, like a flag.

I know that egrets will come, at least
once more—stately,
golden-sandalled, robed

with white breeding plumes
they once were hunted for—to probe
among the reeds for quivering life.

I pluck another coffee cup, its bitter white.

William Wenthe

William Wenthe

William Wenthe has received awards from the NEA, Texas Commission on the Arts, and two Pushcart Prizes. His most recent book is God's Foolishness (LSU Press). His poems are recently or forthcoming in AGNI, Plume, Georgia Review, Threepenny Review, and others.
William Wenthe

Latest posts by William Wenthe (see all)

Author: William Wenthe

William Wenthe has received awards from the NEA, Texas Commission on the Arts, and two Pushcart Prizes. His most recent book is God's Foolishness (LSU Press). His poems are recently or forthcoming in AGNI, Plume, Georgia Review, Threepenny Review, and others.