Illinois swamp, Cahokia

The Uses of Beauty

Sundays, Father would take us to a slough behind the Mississippi.
where, among the cypress stumps, we'd fish the afternoon away.
Sitting with pole in hand one day, I heard a splash and turned my head
to see a nearby pool alive, its liquid silver boiling up
with gleaming, rainbow forms that broke the surface, then
dove down again in streamlined arcs.

Had the sun split into shards and come down here?
Were these Apollo's fish, swimming in their sacred pool?
Picking up my net, I trapped those flashing wonders, one by one,
exulting in each success. Soon, no more living miracles
disturbed the pool. We took them home;
I don't remember if we even fried them up.

The first time I saw mountains
we were driving through the Ozarks, from St. Louis to Hot Springs.
The highway wound; suddenly, an overlook: valley, hills and sky;
a million trees, a haze; a harmony. We parked, got out.
My spirit flew, expanding into that great bowl
and returned in silent wonder.
Then my thoughts caught up, body remembering
its contraction, bent by nervous knots;
mind churning out the question:
”What do you do with all that Beauty?”

Half a century has passed.
If I were with that boy
I used to be, I’d tell him
“Beauty’s all there is;”
then take him in my arms
and hold him till he quieted
enough to know it’s true.

         —Max Reif