Poetry

Poetry

A religious background

In the year that I was born, at a small religious college
in northern Illinois, witnesses recall how just after dinner
one winter evening, a young confessor sparked a fervor:

forty-two straight hours of repentance, studious coeds
and baseball stars alike, suddenly afire. They were warm
with desire to admit their wrongs to their peers, to make

their sins public and announce themselves godly and free.
I was born not long before those penitents were born
again, before they streamed boldly onto that sacred stage,

became oddly patient and waited their turn in choir
chairs to declare their shame—articulate, eyes wet.
While they wept, I wept too, a generation and states

away, until Mother, who knew nothing of fire or college
or regret, lifted me from cradle to font and rocked me
in an arms-and-flesh theology, both of us quiet now,

neither of us with much, maybe nothing at all, to confess.









Hummers

Even in Maine’s rain and fog I catch them,
often in pairs, or waiting, patient, perched on
a scarcely bending twig of our aged forsythia,
then working the window box petunias
till the coast seems clear, while I hover, motionless,
on the shadowed porch, hungry for still another glimpse
of ruby throat and emerald layered coat,
the delicate dip of beak in cup, the tilted head,
the blur of wings, that sudden flash of movement—
now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t.
Whatever it may be in me—
some wandered/wondered child—
that makes me watch and wait, this late,
the daily hours to catch their, almost holy, visitations,
I’m grateful for it, mindful too
of one who, every once in a long while, still hovers
back there just beyond, behind the nearest edge
of solitude, or prayer, or even glimpses of the tiniest of birds.

Praise is a language

The young preacher said so and then hurried on and the girls
who had led the praise songs nodded and whispered in the front pew
but wait, I muttered in my head, if praise is a language then what

can we use it to say? How widely is it spoken, and should we maybe
listen instead of talking so much? I have seen praise glowing
in the cornstalks glazed with mud and snow. I have heard

the fine twigs of the sickly high tree outside my fourth-floor
window sifting the buttery wind. I have taken the stairs
two at a time and groped for my key and dreamed that

the language of praise might launch itself across the wide skies,
cross vacuums and voids like radio or photons, carry some
wild packet of data and yearning that would cause the High One

suddenly to relent, to pass out the sports cars and the answer keys,
to sit down alone and together with us all and tenderly explain
the languages of bullies, traffic, RPGs, anthrax, patriarchy

and cholesterol, propound in words glowing and clear the need
for better and more detailed articulations of the High One’s
splendor, grandeur, majesty and might, for the pretty good guitar

strummed nearly in time, for the blond girl who sweetly sang
Father, Father as the rest of us tried to follow the tune.











If God is your answer

If God is your answer to every question,
   eternal and absolute
   once-and-for-all kind of answer,
   without a doubt,
   no wondering, dithering or hypothesizing,
   no clever juggling,
   struggling, pondering or agonizing
   no raised eyebrow or pursed lips,
   no tilted head with faraway gaze—
   just straight out, eyes glazed,
   one syllable,
   constant and unequivocal,
   you smiling, smiling, always smiling
   sweetly to every question:
   God;
Then,
   all questions vanish,
   all questions perish,
   and you stand like a post
   from one of your fences,
   not even enough of you
   for the upright
   of a cross
   like one Jesus chose at the end,
   facing death, and desperately
   asking the ultimate question:
   God, where are you?
   and hearing nothing,
   resigned to silence,
   said, Nevertheless, I AM
   and died the Lamb
   still with his question.
Now there’s an answer,
   God.

The well

I could say you are flame, but you are not flame,
though you race over my limbs
like fire in grass.

I could say you are cloud or vapor or mist, but unlike
these you do not thin or fade
but stay.

I might call you the water that builds unawares in my eyes,
the first light of dawn that ignites the trees,
but then there is the night

when I see differently and you are even more powerful.
You are more steady than any feeling,
and no thought that enters my mind has the dark, rich odor

of forest where you run clear like a stream in my heart.
I can taste you in these words as they form on my tongue.
Yet you are the catch in my voice when I cannot find words

and the quiet spreads through my body intimate and warm
and needs no other language.
Like water to fish, air to bird’s wing, so you to me.

But who are you really?