Amy Clampitt

(15 June 1920 - 10 September 1994 / New Providence, Iowa)

Nothing Stays Put


In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985


The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes—a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom—
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics—
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor's buttons. But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's

a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.

But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above—
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we're
made of, is motion.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003
Edited: Wednesday, March 14, 2012

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  • Frank Avon (9/5/2014 12:33:00 AM)

    Yes, yes, yes. Her Iowa is my Tennessee, and her Manhattan is my own midwestern city. I'll come back to this poem time again (with dictionary and encyclopedia in hand. Protea of the antipodes? Alstroemerias? But how well I know her exotic supermarket (we are, indeed, in our decadence) , her cornflower on roadsides (yes! ! !) , her grandmother's garden, the corduroy of the plowed, furrowed, midwestern farmlands, those courthouse lawns, the wild plums of her childhood - oh, and yes indeed, those ubiquitous blossoming pears that line streets everywhere I walk, and in the summer will bear no fruit. (Report) Reply

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