Under the Elder Tree

“Under the Elder Tree” by Giovanni Giacometti, 1911.

Under the Elder Tree

the summer light sifts softly through the leaves
and dapples the rosy-cheeked mother, kissing her hair
as she sits easily on her straight wooden chair
with a child cradled in her lap, so used to the weight

and heft of that head pressed into her bosom
that she doesn’t even think about it.
She smiles as she talks to the tall girl whose
red hair flares in the sifted light

In the shifting shadows their blue dresses shimmer
like water rippling and casting up shining spiders
as the playful sun dazzles the blue shade and
the red house and green garden bask in afternoon’s glimmer.

The blond girl snuggling there isn’t hearing
the words at all, but her mother’s heart beating
and her breathing and the rising and falling of her voice
which signifies safety and home, her favorite place.

A boy stands behind the pair, his hand rests on Mother’s chair
not seeking her attention or approval
he’s just holding on to her as a swimmer
holds to the side of the pool while he wonders whether

he can reach the other side, he gauges the depth
and weighs his own fears and then, when he is ready,
he lets go and darts quickly across before
he can lose his nerve.

Another boy holds on to the tree’s trunk,
his fingers splayed. He doesn’t look like
he’s listening to his mother and sister
as his eyes follow a bird that is flitting

from branch to branch; but he’s drinking in
every word and storing them in the deep
pocket of his memory where he’s also stowed
a pebble that’s perfectly round and a flower petal

and a rubber band and a penny he found
at the beach in the sand. The conversation
continues, they’re talking about how to make
a poem, how the rhythm of the words dances,

and how a painter can catch light and color
and a poet can spin those same splotches
into a song or a looking glass or a waltz
or even a worry stone to keep in your pocket.

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