November Poem of the Month — Elizabeth Knapp

The Burning Bush

For weeks, I searched for a sign that it was over—
my rage or mourning, whichever came first.

I dug holes in the ground and covered the bulbs
with mulch. Then I waited. If something grew there,

I’d know I’d been granted. But earth doesn’t respond
like that; there’s nothing human in its language.

Words came to me, but they seemed the symptom
of something deeper. And then I saw it: blue-red

in the October sun, the color of a pomegranate
seed when light passes through it, or the amber-red

of a young Arbois, honey-red, yet bitter. It lit
the yard with the intensity of a dream, only I knew

its leaves weren’t burning. Neither god nor prophet
it spoke to me, but what it meant I couldn’t decode.

Reader, there are those who would say
I shouldn’t address you directly, but this is not

that kind of poem—Frostian, dark, with a touch
of sardonic humor. Without you, I speak to the chasm.

Sublime, indifferent, the bush taunted me, its fire-
flecked voices I couldn’t answer, its quivering vowels

slaking off heat. How was I to translate? I could say
it represented the untenable, the ineffable,

all that I had faltered or failed in (this gift to you,
my raspy hunger, the miniature graves I dug

in the hope for flower, my sad little conscience
pulling up weeds), but that would be untrue. Listen:

It’s nearly winter and the bush is still burning.
In rage or mourning, I have failed you.

Elizabeth Knapp is the author of The Spite House (C&R Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 De Novo Prize for Poetry. The recipient of the 2007 Discovered Voices Award from Iron Horse Literary Review, she has published poems in Best New Poets 2007, The Massachusetts Review, The Mid-American Review, Barrow Street, and many other journals. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and a PhD from Western Michigan University and is currently Assistant Professor of English at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, where she lives with her husband and son.