I didn’t come here to make speeches.
I didn’t come here to make trouble.
I didn’t come here to be
I didn’t come here to make friends.
I didn’t come here to teach.
I didn’t come here to drag the space heater
from the house in summer with an extension
cord out to the orchard because
the peach trees we planted
in a climate that couldn’t take them
didn’t thrive, couldn’t sweeten
their fruit in a place like this.
The nest became a way to sit
quietly under the nest. You felt a ruckus
anywhere a flower grew,
a riot, a gathering escalating past
the legal and the state.
In Felix Holt by George Eliot,
a magistrate pulls out the Riot Act
and reads it, as the crowd
of workers envelops
the voice of the law.
They are paid just well enough
not to be too hungry to riot.
Pitchforks and all sorts of farm implements
turned into weapons, a chase, and the landowner
gets put back into his house.
Rhododendrons by the swimming pool
in the kind of blush
women improve at, staring
into cameras. Tomato plants
overgrown their trellis, months before August.
Not to mention all the flowers sent.
Harder to get bad news in the morning,
with an entire day to talk to.
The nest is a blueprint of the first
ever halo, before the angels
learned to work with light,
when there was only material, when they hadn’t figured out
touching wasn’t necessary for flight, and the shoulders
of the soldiers of light, God’s army
bent under the weight of their crowns.
Was the body taken up by the angels?
The minister wore a caftan, an African design, quite red
and misunderstood the location of the plot.
The uncle who had not been asked to speak
at the rosary finally got his turn.
Who came earlier to dig the hole?
How deep and how wide was the hole?
Pallbearers are the opposite of angels,
earthbound, having a last turn
at handholding, their hands turn red.
Their purpose to hold and not to speak,
they stand and wait next to the plot.
What distinguished this particular plot
from other plots? The branches above the hole
make a canopy of shade. Did anyone speak
tenderly about that? Did the angels
think the snippet of scripture that was read
made sense? Did the mourners return
home the long way? Whose turn
was it to do the dishes? Who untangled the plot
(and was it a good one) of the last book she read?
When they were gone, who filled in the hole
with dirt? Who addressed the angels?
It only became my turn to speak
when everyone else forgot how to speak
to each other. To get there, you must turn
left at a statue of Victorian angels.
You must cross more than one identical plot.
At the end of the day, you will see the whole
peninsula, from the rise of that hill, turn red.
Who will remember her birth, the streak of red
in her hair? I have wanted to speak,
I have wanted to tell the hole
to close, to become ground, to tell her to turn
into earth, to ease into the plot.
I have nothing to say to the angels.
Oh the angels speak honey but their throats are red,
their plots are cunning, they are like us,
they talk and their faces turn into holes.
Katie Peterson is Professor of the Practice of Poetry at Tufts University. She is the author of This One Tree (2006).