Black Swallow-Wort

Back by the compost, he raises a mattock
and hacks at the roots of clenching vines,
then stuffs his kill in a large clay pot

until he’s satisfied—though not
(not ever) done. Small purple stars,
each with a yellow eye, stare up

from where they weren’t just last spring.
It’s not enough to match their pace.
His little woods, shot through with bars

of slanting light, is under siege.
Gas sloshes from a metal can;
he lets the wind disperse its vapors

then drops a match. Tall helices
of flame rise from the pot. The man
is my father, but maybe not for long.

Months later, as the sky collapses
flake by flake, he’ll check his work
and find the long wires that appear

from snow, their seedpods spent and gaping.
Harmless elsewhere; murderous here.

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the author of Petty Theft, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, he is also the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He lives with his wife and son in Syracuse.
Nicholas Friedman

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Author: Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the author of Petty Theft, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, he is also the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He lives with his wife and son in Syracuse.