The Agave

The Agave

The villa's switchback garden path,
between the potted railing and the sea
and under the canopy of overlapping pines,
winds through what can grow under them:
plants from a moon orbiting Venus maybe,
brambly fig, yucca, holm oak, firethorn,
and silvery, bloated succulents -
The Penitent, Dead-Child's-Fingers,
Mother's-School, Chapel-of-Solitude.

The agave beside the stone bench,
where I have sat heavily all day,
reaches out in all directions,
its meaty, grizzled leaves each
the length of a man, each edged
with back-turned venomous thorns,
thumbnail billhooks in ranks down
from the empurpled spike at its tip.
The largest leaf, right next to me,
has so bent under itself, the spike
has come around and gone up through
another part of itself - the heart, say,
or whatever comes to as much as that.

Yesterday the gardener told me
it could take thirty years for the spike
slowly - never meaning to, thinking
it was headed towards the water-glare
it mistook for the little light that kept
not coming from above - slowly
to pierce its own flesh, to sink its sorrow
deep within and through its own life.

It only took me a month.

from Hazmat (Knopf, 2002), copyright © J. D. McClatchy 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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1The Ledger


3The Rented House


5The Window

6My Mammogram

7Proust in Bed

8Tea with the Local Saint

9What They Left Behind

10Three Dreams about Elizabeth Bishop

11Late Night Ode



14The Agave

15Late Afternoon, Rome

16The Bookcase

17Hotel Bar

18Little Elegy

19A View of the Sea