Poetry

Poetry

Bangor to Holyhead by bus

There are no plumy accents
when traveling by coach,
just ordinary people
going about extraordinary lives.
The bus grinds through
small, forgotten villages,
stops for elderly women
with rheumy eyes dragging
plaid shopping trolleys,
stops for old men
under flat woolen caps,
hearing aids at odd angles
whistling in their hairy ears,
stops for weary young mums
with impossibly complex prams.
We bump by sodden fields of sheep,
into market towns no longer
proffering produce, only plastic.
Yet three times on this journey
I have seen standing stones,
great, gray plinths alone in fields,
reminders of time immemorial,
reminders there is more
than what appears to be.
They watch us hurtle by.

A reckoning

                              “Hata si si vijana wa ghetto tako.”
              We slum youths are also a force to reckon with.


They are hoisting young Tirus shoulder high
on the streets of Korogocho. Tirus Irangu
Maina has dreams of studying law, why

not shake off the dust of these streets, through
studies even take a shot at politics. Today the news
he tested highest among students in primary schools

all over Kenya. He is beaming, sharing his view
that politicians take his people for a ride, gypped
the slum dwellers of Nairobi, so he’s out to improve

the livelihoods of his people. Today, on the lift
of this celebration, he’s cadging well-wishers for spare
change, the shillings needed to continue studies. If

this chosen one can shoulder it, his investors may require
a reckoning one day, exact their ration of his power.

Changing a bulb

I’m always thrown by how fast the ceiling
comes to meet me. To step toward it
is to cross a bifocal line in my balance.

And then to loosen a darkened little one
and cradle it into the last semblance
of warmth. It’s like violating a nest.

Remember the calls of morning after the dusk
we sawed the low branches off the cedar,
the unfledged cardinals still alive on the ground?

So I step listening toward the suddenness
of flight; this time at least with no choice
but to be there when the light is born.

Confessions in the key of kenosis

—after Philippians 4

I am the one who has not
rejoiced, always, and again
I will say, is not rejoicing.

Hardly ever my gentleness
is known, even to me, and not,
certainly, to my children. Strangers
report to have seen it on Tuesday
in the library. I do not confirm
this sighting.

                       But I have catalogued
my every worry about everything,
my requests made known in the sharp,
carping voice on my blog. By supplication
and prayer I claim to have been
deserted. I say it again, deserted, justly.

                                                 And still, some Spirit
stays near, alert for the stingiest rejoicing, key
ready in his unclenched hand. Unlock, Heart-Guard,
my chest’s dark vessel. Empty me of treasured
loss. And again, I say, make it emptier, until,
for rejoicing, a space larger enough to echo appears.

The farm wife examines her Mennonite roots

They’re the riddle in my garden
           What has eyes but cannot see?
Like a stone, they fit my hand
            as I turn their other cheek.
With love but no regrets,
            I mash them into mounds
or whip them, scallop them,
           dice them for rivel soup.
Cancer could not lessen
           Dad’s affection for them fried.
He tells how they clustered
           like sleigh bells in the sand
where nothing else but winter
           squash and zucchini thrived.
His mother, Fannie Mishler,
           fixed them for every meal
like some cultures live on rice.
           My son-in-law from St. Louis
splashes hot sauce on their skin,
           but I fancy even their pockmarked
faces that shrivel as they age.