Poetry

Poetry

The still pilgrim revisits the British Museum for the first time in twenty years

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe.
—Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

We know these columns, this pediment,
angels and sages serene as stone
stand at attention, embodiment
of past grandeur, for this we’ve come,
to see the marble men and maids,
the attic shape, the heifer’s march,
the ancient truth that met Keats’ gaze
and fired his poems that light the dark

knowledge of our mortal being,
sing the song of fleeting time,
the static creatures we are seeing
live and breathe in his sweet lines.
The poem endures, though Keats is dust.
All remains unchanged but us.

Pregame ritual

Here in the basement of the Espresso Royale
                                     on Sixth Street in this land grant university town,
            amid English Fog lattes and keypad-clatter,
                                     in the afternoon before the all-hallows-eve in which Katie,
            a great-great-et-cetera granddaughter
                        of the townswoman they hanged for the crime
                                                of witchcraft, will play a game—homo ludens
                        of volleyball against the maize-and-blue Michigan Wolverines
I draft a missive to the good citizenry of Dorchester as though they might yet
                                                                          happen upon these words,
                                                             as though their revivified selves were a short gallop
                                    from this latitude and longitude, as though their sins
            of omission and commission might still be forgiven—
                        not just forgotten—by an act of penance that includes
                                                a pilgrimage to tonight’s venue and a maniacal cheering
                        for this descendent as she executes (I didn’t invent the language)
                                                a perfect play that culminates in (really, I didn’t) a kill.
            Full stop because
                                      I don’t know how to end this letter.
                                                                         So I do what
                                                                         I always do:
                                                                         continue breaking
                                                              lines
            and staggering
                                     down the page until
                                                                                               it’s time to witness
                                                              more volleyball and cheer like nothing
                                                                                               else ever happens or matters.

At the Y

Iris, at 92, is more bird
than flower, more wings
flapping than bloom
unfolding. She is not still

life, not slow motion,
but mid-flight and atwitter,
elbows and knees
in awkward poses, fragile
neck gawked in the lovely
way of a small crane
or a young duck.  

Only her lavender
pants suggest a plant,
a blossom of early spring—oh,
and the way she looks
toward the sun, stretches
as our instructor tells her to,
her back a tender stalk.

Last will and testament

“The School Sisters of Notre Dame donate brains to
Alzheimer’s research.” —Time magazine

One morning soon
in Mankato, Minnesota,
Sister Matthia will die,
a glacial calving in the heart of God.

103, she joyfully
shuffles among an eternity of prepared rooms,
and at her passing has consented to be undressed
before the picture windows of the world.

Clothed in the plainsong of never being forgotten,
loving the Lord God with her all,
she has practiced
being a Jerusalem wall,

tucking for more than a century
into the wrinkled gyri of her brain,
the desperate, tightly folded slips of petition
forwarded through her bent obedience to the beyond.

Rare,
illuminated book of prayer, this quiet mind
welcomes a final harvest.
Weighed, sectioned, photographed,

her wafered flesh
like a lifted host in the researcher’s hands,
shot with light.

Saved

No longer priest,
  he saves it as that one
  necessary cry to bless or curse
  in some wide-eyed moment
  of nightmare or victory,
  kept among words needed
  for the short breaths,
  last lines,
  those door-slamming,
  throat-closing,
  consonantal end-words
  cried in rage, pain, or love’s
  ecstasy . . . down,
  down to this one word
  left in heart’s chamber
  kept secret
  like a last saved bullet:
  God!