Poetry

Poetry

El plato especial

Chisme, oh that succulent dish sold
and served with a side of snide
words wrapped in caring concern
for your health. People urge you to unpackage
your heart. They slop it, boiled or roasted,
on a plate of I-told-you-so’s, sumptuous
and steaming. They plunge their teeth into chile
picante comments, those juicy and spicy words.
They wound and scrape, sticking to forks,
pitching tongues. People munch their meal,
this food. You, too, relish it. Each morsel
you savor. Until the flavor floats and reaches
your stomach. You chew and wonder
why the special of the day tastes so familiar.

The doubter

Not that you couldn’t reach Him if you tried
(maybe you couldn’t) but that you no longer try.
Your last real prayer? In a plane, beseeching
Him, don’t let me die. How actual He seems at
30 thousand feet, how passionately you love Him
in your hope for solid ground. Not unlike that day
you first felt Him ripping through your heart,
you driving fast, believing you’d foiled gravity,
dendrites of rain flowing up your windshield,
the sting of joy like spearmint in your mouth,
and now how improbable He seems. That Whoever
made the stars would even notice. You! A word
in His mouth? And yet you miss Him. If it
could be true! You think of trying to reach Him,
tell Him you’ve reconsidered.

When we first told you

Gail, remember the boy that broke
his neck on the campus lawn—
just kidding around, turning flips
with his college buddies?
He got his diploma this afternoon
and a standing ovation that had to stop.

When we first told you about this boy,
your face turned lost, you thought
of your own at twenty-one,
somersaulted into a field by a Mack truck.

That was a moment I could love you,
though sons-in-law are poor in love.
That was a moment love lay
languishing before you, bleeding
from a crown of thorns
and once more giving up your ghost.



A good Christian mustn't fear the darkness of the grave

But let me tell you about its landscape. Small,
hot, wooden, and from above no one will hear you murmur
let me out. Out of the darkness nothing’s delivered. Still,

you beg it to the brass of the coffin’s creak hinge while satin grows stench
and your death dress rots away. You are livid and left alone.
The red jasper chaplet in your hand inclines to the pretense

of prayer. You are appalled, shrouded, sutured shut.
They did not put the pillow in between your knees. And
your lipstick’s smeared. Once upon, you wished for a thousand infinities.

Finally arrived, nothing can be more broken, nothing can be
more than dead. A devilwood tree hones toward the uncarved side
of your stone. But this, of course, is not the end.





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.