The Button Bush

When the blue arch of September deserved to be called heavens, its high streaks
and bulging billows auguring storms in the heat; I climbed down to the strip of land

between the levee and the river, where maples lift silver to the wind, and willows
often bend to trail their branches in the sun by the water, and homeless people

have built a roof of driftwood over them for shelter, down in the thicket,
hiding their plastic chairs and tarps in the willow forks, and some homeowner

from above the levee keeps a dinghy padlocked to a trunk, jammed in sand,
I take the path as far as I can go easily, past the hardware cloth that guards

a damaged cottonwood from beavers’ teeth, by all the absent ones who’ve been here
before and done things to the place, this bit of land belonging to no one

but the river, and to the heron I watched last summer. Now my old frame
goes beyond easy ways, to kneel under or climb over triangles of prostrate logs

lodged by currents, finally to reach the narrow beach beside the riprap,
and turn aside to a bush I never saw before—the button bush, its twigs

like ash and its gray stems, its leaves the texture of ash leaflets, but singly arranged
opposite along the twigs. Looking up pictures, I see how the spheres

of their blooms enticed the bees. But now those stars have collapsed,
contracted to packed planets of seed clusters, hard little sycamore-balls,

as the world contracts disaster by disaster toward its joy.

—by Matthew Robb Brown

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