Treasure Island

Max Reif

(1948 / OVER 400 POEMS SERVED! !)

The Uses of Beauty


1

Father would take us to a slough
behind the Mississippi.
There, among the cypress stumps
we'd fish our Sunday afternoons away.

Once, as I sat with pole in hand,
something splashed
in a nearby pool.

I turned to see the rippling
water alive as silver
gleaming, rainbow forms
broke surface, then dove down
again in streamlined arcs.

It seemed the sun
itself had broken up
and come down there!
Apollo's fish, I wonder now,
swimming in their sacred pool?

I got my net and caught
those flashing wonders,
one by one, until
no more living miracle
disturbed that pool—
don't remember if
we even fried them up.

2

I remember, too,
the first time
I saw mountains.
Dad drove us
through the Ozarks,
down in Arkansas.

The highway wound,
and suddenly
a scenic overlook
of valley, hills and sky.
I felt my spirit
expand in wonder,

but after I'd looked awhile,
my thoughts caught up.
Body tense, my mind
churned restlessly:
'What do you do
with all that Beauty? '

3

Half a century has passed.
I look back at that boy and see
his restlessness

in wars and strip mines,
in the rape of land or persons,
the hunting
of a lovely deer.

He could not admire
those fish and
let them be,

for voices shouted in his head,
his knotted body shook with tics,
he harbored tales that he
was shamed to share.

How could he, then,
meet beauty
on her naked,
quiet terms?

This is the story
of our land and times:
until we're empty,
our self-hate
makes her
our victim.

Submitted: Thursday, August 30, 2007
Edited: Saturday, April 02, 2011

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  • Alison Cassidy (8/31/2007 3:16:00 AM)

    Max this is a profound and moving piece (beautifully related) that tells the reader so much about you and your ceaseless quest for understanding. The reader recognizes those butterfly moments of being totally present, interrupted inevitably by the butterfly net of mind. A fine poem to be read and re-read. love, Allie xxxx. (Report) Reply

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