Against Optimism

It’s a lonely fight, no more so than when
the broken rhododendron–an ancient
spidery thing just off the back porch–
flares for two fiery weeks each May,
so scarlet and profuse, so labial, well,
it rattles me. I’m filled with doubt.

I email a friend about the darkness we swim in,
a triumph complete and incontrovertible.
Any sharp 9th grader can see it.
He writes back, sings the hymn of religion,
demands I give equal billing to the bright side
and signs off, “Dripping with optimism.”

Look, it’s the 11th century, I’m a monk,
I go my solitary way, believing not so much
that the end is nigh but that the end happened
when we were children and still viewed the world
as a marvelous peach. It was a brief dream.
We hadn’t learned yet that cheerful hopeful men

develop weapons systems. Then one day,
spading the potato patch, I dig up a cateye marble.
I wipe away the crumbs of earth and marvel
at its green iris, luminous after all those years
in the dark. I suppose a kid dropped it, a girl,
I suppose, from the family who built our house

around the time of the Great Depression.
I suppose it would have been her mother
who planted the back porch rhody, decrepit now,
and collapsing, the one engulfed in flowers,
shrieking, almost, with color, the one
I’ve stared at for the better part of an hour.