Poetry

Poetry

Sunday morning

Standing at the window,
I let fall a book of American sermons

when I see my neighbor
washing his Honda in the June sunshine

and across the street,
an old woman catechizing her roses.

On the radio
a disk jockey affirms his faith in Virgin Records,

though he himself is a separatist
who mostly worships at independent shrines.

I switch stations to hear
a scholar trying to describe the color purple:

it cannot be done, he finally admits,
though he calls it the existential center.

Carrying flatbread and coffee,
I abandon the house

for the sidewalk, where a block away
two kids are playing with a garden sprinkler.

They dance in rainbows,
free, it seems, of all catastrophe.

Book of Kells

October 19, 2013: folio 253v-254r

The text of the day is open to Luke, chapter sixteen,
verse ten. The initial N, made up of blond men

facing off, grappling and tugging at each other’s beards,
becomes the first word in the section that warns us

that no servant can serve two masters. Irony intended.
Later, in beautiful insular majuscule, the open letters filled

in red and blue, we read You cannot serve both god and money.
I wish that these words would rise off the page, a swarm of bees,

become honey to spread on our daily bread. When the scribes
made an error, in a world before white-out, the correct word

was inserted in a box of red dots. Aren’t there words today
we’d like to amend like that? In this dimly lit room, circling

glass cases, I return to view the same vellum over again,
Twelve hundred years later, clear as the day it was written,

I think of Henri Nouwen: The word is born in silence,
and silence is the deepest response to the word.

Common elegance

Kneeling,
he turned the fish by their tails
on the iron grate; their skins

sticking and burning.
The fire died once
and he bent and blew

on the embers, holding
his robe at the throat,
a gesture of such common elegance

the gates flew open.
A ribbon of dawn
lay taut and pink on the sea.

When at last he raised his head
and looked at me, I shivered.
Simon, son of John, do you love me?

Creation

Obvious of course, now and in the beginning:
God is not a perfectionist.   Good at detail for sure,
and drama, but lacking the
compulsion to get every piece of
punctuation in its proper place,      ever.
And forever forgetting the finishing touches:
a proper frame, that final proofreading.

Tempting to be critical of such sloppiness,
all those excesses and omissions.   For instance,
surely there is too much sadness to go around,
more than what’s necessary for lessons and poetry.

But I don’t mean there is no serious business here.
Only that there is something else on the canvas,
an art in line and color, a splash of mystery,
a priority of passion perhaps,
well beyond the right answer and its rush of applause,
something still seeping into our soil.

Bloodline

Consider its extravagant fertility! How
dependably it breeds itself in the marrow
to fill again what drains away, the rivers of bright
platelets singing in their arterial dark

until a simple incursion, some sharp sever.
A jag. An abrupt disclosure as our secret fluid
spills against its will—whether a startle or a slow
seepage, a prompt to remember our fragility.

When a bold splash on a lintel in Egypt signaled
safety, a lifeguard against the death angel, we didn’t
have to die; it was only a lamb, and a quick throat cut
that flooded us into another life.

“His blood be upon us” echoes in that old yell of
rejection. We can yield instead to be
washed in grace, the scandal of mercy
acting as God’s unlikely laundry.

Today the cup calls us to the altar rail, transfuses us
as we drink deep, a stain that blots old grimes
and dyes us with itself.