The Albesia in Season
When my flowering tree comes into its own
the birds sing in it for a day and a night.
O folie bergère of pink and white blossom,
fluffy boa feathers. Honey is their delight.
Mountain swallows. No one sees them alight.
Little pecking birds that drink to clear their throats,
carousing the air with many-coloured notes.
When the source has been sucked dry, the birds take flight
and the blossoms begin to fall. A dead cat bloats
with maggots under the tree. Three days ago
it slept in the grass, a pile of old coats.
It must have crawled there to die. Marco Polo
brought the corm of an albesia back home.
A gift to Venice from his friend Kubla Khan.
But in the marshlands the plant could not be grown.
So it put down its roots in North Catalan,
where the green fronded branches have the wingspan,
and the trunk the torsion, with its knotted grain,
to bend, and not to break, in the tramontane
(ants feed off the bark in this arid terrain).
The ideal wood for carving beasts and birds.
Flea markets in the Far East are aflood with them.
The gift of the albesia had been offered
by Kubla Khan to fashion royal coffins.
But no Venetian doge would be buried in less
than a sacrophage of flesh-absorbing limestone.
Wood was only what burnt peasants to ashes.
A dead-loss, thought Marco Polo, who’d have known
in Kubla Khan’s Cambaluc, a princess
was dug up after two thousand years, flesh and bone
perfectly preserved in a wooden compress.
Maybe the albesia will be my own.