The Price of Palm Trees

(For Larry and Michelle)

The currency of palms rockets fronds
into green bursts above the city,
blades slicing the burnished evening
into finer shadows, the air brassy
in silent glistening like the spider-cracked
lacquer on ancient Chinese boxes.
The warm breeze entering off the desert
comforts our breathing. We inhale lizard
and cactus, acres of stones relaxing
with the day’s heat. The sharp-sheathed
trunks prop up an exotic clarity
in this vast sage-scented space.

And there is the currency of palms
planted along medians: the endless necklace of traffic
pulling tight in both directions, the braking ruby
glitter scattering for miles, leading to tract
homes stacked on desiccated hillsides
and balanced on the edge of arroyos,
regal rows of rising rough bark.
Backhoed into place, roots submerged
into sand and volcanic debris, they would
convince us we are graceful in this graced life.

A friend who knew the price of paradise
is dead now, alone in his house
for days when it happened, missed
by his friends who finally found him
slumped in a chair, as if he were
recalling the palm tree that he woke to in his youth,
where a rat ascended the razor-edged bark
to a hole that it freely entered and left,
its whiskered snout catching the afternoon light,
framed by the oval darkness behind it
as if it, too, had a proud lineage
and only needed a wall on which to be hung
or a night stand on which to sit and gather
dust as proof of our daily settling.

Daily, still drowsy from his nap,
he watched the ritual climb, yet years later
he wondered if there had really been a rat,
or even a palm, but he became certain
that the rat was the soul of that palm
framed by his screened window.

Under the vast pane of polar ice
meteorites are found hinting
of other lost and more lonely places,
where WWII fighters are excavated,
damaged only by the massive pressures
of cold, their war frozen to perfection,
where purity of form is grandiose and mundane
as six months of daylight and darkness,
where the mummified seal and human
are stark aberrations against Locke's snowy tabla rasa,
under skies of blue ice epoch-old palms
swayed into stone, their rats all gone
to bone and less.

(previously published in The Montserrat Review)