Rebecca Alexander

The Orphan’s Harvest

my mother knelt in the center of town
and the stones of judgment flew
from all the righteous directions
there was nothing I could do then
but witness her change
from breathing being to silent cairn

I fled home as she’d instructed
and sowed the last of the harmal seeds
between the pages of every suspect title
in my parents’ library—
the poetry we’d read and sung aloud
the manuscripts bordered in jeweled geometry
the planetary maps and songs of birds
the godless golden sections of the living world—
I took the books—my teachers—to the nearest field
and planted them among the poppies

the rainy season fed the outdoor library
yielding mounded plants with threadlike branches
crowned with star-bright blooms
emerging from the expanse of drowsy mauve flowers

summer ripened into fall and time had come
to gather lobed capsules bursting with dark seeds
donning my dead brother’s clothes I traipsed through traffic
selling esfand smoke from my homemade tin-can censer
a charm against bad fortune much needed in this place

the wisps from burning seeds arose in swirling script
drivers abandoned their vehicles by the roadside
shopkeepers brought banned instruments out of hiding
boys left the madrasa and girls like me took courage
and we followed the ramifying constellations of text
an irrepressible archive of ideas conquering the sky