On the Pleasures of Wagoner (Part 1)


FOR A ROW OF LAUREL SHRUBS
By David Wagoner

They don’t want to be your hedge,
Your barrier, your living wall, the no-go
Go-between between your property
And the prying of dogs and strangers. They don’t

Want to settle any of your old squabbles
Inside or out of bounds. Their new growth
In three-foot shoots goes thrusting straight
Up in the air each April or goes off

Half-cocked sideways to reconnoiter
Wilder dimensions: the very idea
Of squareness, of staying level seems
Alien to them, and they aren’t in the least

Discouraged by being suddenly lopped off
Year after year by clippers or the stuttering
Electric teeth of trimmers hedging their bets
To keep them all in line, all roughly

In order. They don’t even
Want to be good-neighborly bushes
(Though under the outer stems and leaves
The thick, thick-headed, soot-blackened

Elderly branches have been dodging
And weaving through so many disastrous springs,
So many whacked-out, contra-
Dictory changes of direction, they’ve locked

Themselves together for good). Yet each
Original planting, left to itself, would be
No fence, no partition, no crook-jointed
Entanglement, but a tree by now outspread

With all of itself turned upward at every
Inconvenient angle you can imagine,
And look, on the ground, the fallen leaves,
Brown, leathery, as thick as tongues, remain

Almost what they were, tougher than ever,
Slow to molder, to give in, dead slow to feed
The earth with themselves, there at the feet
Of their fathers in the evergreen shade

Of their replacements. Remember, admirers
Long ago would sometimes weave fresh clippings
Into crowns and place them squarely on the heads
Of their most peculiar poets.

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