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American Life in Poetry: ‘Milkweed’ by Bradford Tice

Here’s a poem celebrating milkweed by Bradford Tice, whose most recent book of poetry is “What the Night Numbered,” from Trio House Press.

Our Monarch butterfly population depends upon milkweed, and perhaps a few people who read this won’t chop down or pull up or poison one of these generous plants.


I tell myself softly, this is how love begins –

the air alive with something inconceivable,

seeds of every imaginable possibility

floating across the wet grasses, under

the thin arms of ferns. It drifts like snow

or old ash, settling on the dust of the roadways

as you and I descend into thickets, flanked

by the fragrance of honeysuckle and white


I recall how my grandmother imagined

these wanderers were living beings,

some tiny phylum yet to be classified as life.

She would say they reminded her of maidens

decked in white dresses, waltzing through air.

Even after I showed her the pods from which

they sprang, blossoming like tiny spiders,

she refused to believe.

Now, standing beside you in the crowded

autumn haze, I watch them flock, emerge from

brittle stalks, bursting upon the world as

young lovers do – trysting in the tall grasses,

resting fingers lightly in tousled hair.

Listen, and you can hear them whisper

in the rushes, gazing out at us, wondering –

what lives are these?

Poem copyright 2013 by Bradford Tice, “Milkweed,” from “Rare Earth,” (New Rivers Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.