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Spanish for Beginners

Clay Matthews

The sadness of the flowers pushing up
in the backyard too early to listen
to what the groundhog’s shadow had
to say break my heart every time because
the cruelest month is not April it is
all those other months that because of one
nice day perceive themselves to be April.
I say this to you, as someone once said
to me, Look, the trees die standing up.
And I have no idea how to feel about this—
is it noble or terrible or natural or just
something contained in the sound
of a morpheme that calls out el from the get go
like an instructional Spanish tape in the car
pointing to everything outside and repeating:
el árbol, the tree, el árbol, the tree, el árbol,
the tree. Tiny flowers, go home to your
mothers, the winter is not through with all
of us yet. And so what if I push my
obsessions on to everything that grows
in the backyard, along the sidewalks, everywhere,
because I can’t stop this because I never asked
to stop this because I don’t know yet for sure
if I’d even stop this if I could. I could write
the history of the world on one petal even
knowing that somewhere along the way
the petal would become furious at being history
and disappear forever. I’m thinking if you
gave me the right pen and microscopic vision
I would try to spell out the guttural sound
I’ve held within me for an eternity nonetheless.
And I don’t even know what it sounds like,
really, but it’s there somewhere beneath
my diaphragm and cries out at the worst times
of day. And so the trees die standing up
and I hope to but I don’t know why, exactly,
because so many of us die on our backs,
and I knew a man once to die just like that,
on his back, and he was whispering something
I don’t know what but for the sake of all
things green and for the sake of my own
backyard I’m going to say I know exactly
what he said it is what I have said it is
what I’m saying inside as my life moves
from one translation to another imperfection:
el árbol, the tree, el árbol, the tree, el árbol.

Clay Matthews

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