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Elul

Why not begin, simple in speech,
plain in your mild rapture?

As best you can, the way you see
one broad leaf among the many,

moved by light or the wind to bob
when all the rest lie still, describe your life.

Describe your knee, the way it jumps
when you sit. It’s simple. It’s nature.

You feel complicated, but you could
join the ones who plainly love. You do,

admit it, love the water at dusk,
the perfect hundreds of blues and grays,

the rose and the pearl melting within it.
You know — why blush — 

that common pleasure, a garden
you tended, the saffron and the deep cerise,

the window left open to neighbor,
night wing, cicada, round moon.

Why this distaste? It’s no different
for you than for the rest

who speak their love plainly, who try
though it’s hopeless, to say it.

You count the recital of blossom
and stem — the limit of your rake

and your small store of words — a failure,
a return to something old or flat or dead.

But it’s all there is. It’s your nature.
You’re reluctant. You’re nervous.

Your heart held secret for no reason,
you cannot help but pray.

Judith Chalmer is co-translator of Deepening Snow, a bilingual book of haiku and tanka by Michiko Oishi (Plowboy Press 2012). She is a widely published poet and director of VSA Vermont, a nonprofit devoted to arts and disability.