Still Life: A Cento


Sweet-gum, what good your Latin name
I say, who barely remember your common one—

And though the fig tree may not blossom
nor fruit be on the vines, I dig

and prune and water for promise: thread
of what language could offer up for me

or you— if you are out there— perhaps.
And through the patchwork grass, all morning

I have been scattering insects
with the noise of the lawn mower—

I’m sure they are right about me.
Humans and concocted gods— they dot the I’s

and hierarchically reshuffle. And if we two,
sprawled below on the sand, are burned

and offered, it is to no god we will name.
Seagulls perch on the rafters in the shadow of cypress,

or move from column to broken column submerged in water:
a Greek temple where no one now remembers the name of the god.

From moment to moment the world becomes memory,
a still life, what the French call nature morte.



NOTE: A Cento is a poem made up of parts from other works; late Latin, from Latin, patchwork garment; perhaps akin to Sanskrit kanthā, patched garment; first known use: 1605 (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Source texts of lines in this cento:

Debra Greger, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Flora”
Habakkuk 3:17-19
Kaspalita Thompson, comments on Dave Bonta’s (note to self)
Quincy Troupe, “Listening to Blackbirds”
Julie Martin, comments on Dave Bonta’s (note to self)
Dave Bonta, (note to self)
Rosanna Warren, “At Villeneuve-les-Maguelone”
Hayden Carruth, “Song: So Why Does this Dead Carnation”



In response to (note to self).

3 Replies to “Still Life: A Cento”

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