Life on this planet persists in knitting its minerals
into animal and vegetable variations, behaving
at all times like the central point of the cosmos,
and because it is water it seeks the paths of least resistance
and pauses sometimes to admire itself,
because it is earth it may subside in camouflage
or darkness or cease to move for its own good reasons,
because it is air it might seem like nothing
yet be the invisible sustenance of oceans or forests or a shade of blue,
and because it is fire it leaps and is uncertain
and leaves smelly waste and goes everywhere it can uninvited.
It presses its lips where boiling sulfur cracks the ocean floor,
swims in acid cavities below the roots of mountains,
burrows and flits and infects and strangles and hatches,
constructs mats, reefs, trunks, tunnels, stained-glass windows
and ad campaigns for raspberry-scented chinchilla dust.
Mammalian bipeds especially intrude where they are unfit to go,
chewing coca leaves to walk on ridges where oxygen falls away,
training beasts to carry weight in the desert and drinking their blood,
beating sea water back with little hands.
On the southern ice cap, one turns his frozen socks inside out
and shakes his blackened toes into his lap.
In the country he comes from, earth is parched,
air warped with the heat he longs for.
Thirsty flies glue themselves to plants that begin to digest them;
modest orchids bloom underground. In his country
glinting saucers are filling with penicillin
while soldiers don uniforms. There is singing.
A shimmer over cannon mouths. Fire consumes. Mud consumes.
Many stars since they were born
have been sending their light to shine upon us,
but some are rushing away as fast as they can.
“Underground Orchids” first appeared in International Poetry Review, Spring 2005, Vol. 31 No. 1.