Native

W. S. Merwin

Most afternoons
of this year which is written as a number
in my own hand
on the white plastic labels

I go down the slope
where mules I never saw
plowed in the sun and died
while I was in school

they were beaten to go
straight up the hill
so that in three years the rain
had washed all the topsoil

out past the sea cliffs
and frigate birds
only a few years
after the forests were gone

now I go down past
a young mango tree
to the shelves made of wood
poisoned against decay

there under a roof
of palm fronds and chicken wire
I stare at the small native
plants in their plastic pots

here the ‘ohia trees
filled with red flowers red birds
water notes flying music
the shining of the gods

here seeds from destroyed valleys
open late
beside their names in Latin
in the shade of leaves I have put there

W. S. Merwin was an American poet. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice, a National Book Award for Poetry, and the Tanning Prize, among others, and was the 17th U.S. Poet Laureate.
Originally published:
April 1, 1987

Featured

Books

Life in the Algorithm

It has reshaped culture—but how? Two new books reckon with our digital predicament.
Anna Shechtman

The Night Watch

I first sought sanctuary during the Troubles. I'm still looking for it.
Darran Anderson

Why I Write

The legendary cultural critic on finding a life’s work
Greil Marcus

Subscribe

New perspectives, enduring writing. Join a conversation 200 years in the making. Subscribe to our print journal and receive four beautiful issues per year.
Subscribe