Poetry

Poetry

On the occasion of the release of the Senate torture report

        In Piero della Francesca’s
“Flagellation of Christ,”
            The room is needlessly spacious

        For the blunt work at hand.
Three figures in the foreground
            Take no notice of the violence.

        Except for the purpose
Of composition,
            They are superfluous.

        Some critics argue these three
Are Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea
            And the beloved disciple John,

        Who will later bribe the authorities,
Claim the body of their friend,
            And bury him in a borrowed grave

        Once the humiliations,
Beatings, and execution end.
            At this distance, Jesus

        Appears to console his tormenter,
Whose right hand is raised
            As if in protest

        (One can barely see the whip.)
How hard it is to do my job,
            He complains, and not feel put upon.

Neighbor dog’s calling

after J. S. Bach’s Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

I’m trying to love you, Riley, neighbor, as
you try nonstop to woof flip-flop (whip-whop,
hip-hop, rip-rop, bip-bop)—just let me
count the ways—but can’t master that fl.

Your master, Neighbor Pug, absent or deaf
like mine, doesn’t notice your wakefulness,
your dogged practice—Wachet auf,
git-eff, auf-up—or alarming faithfulness

as you lift your voice—ruft uns die Stimme—bow
to the four corners of your echoing fence, ruf-ruf,
and with all your God-given strength, wow
the slip-slop, sleep-sop, ninny-nap neighborhood.

Riley, you remind me that the psalmists
favored repetitions. God has gone up
with a shout, and his dog has raised a refrain
like a trumpet—oh, please refrain—as I lie down

and hope to dream of still waters, lip-lap. Let me
hear your difficult pug breaths more than your din.
As you imitate the difficult humans
who dog me, I could half love you. Could you just breathe in?

Ash Wednesday

Here’s your Ash Wednesday story.
A mother carries her tiny daughter
With her as she gets ashed and the
Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms
Into the path of the priest’s thumb
Just as the finger is about to arrive
On the mother’s forehead, and the
Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye.
She starts to cry, and there’s a split
Second as the priest and the mother
Gawk, and then they both burst out
Laughing. The kid is too little to be
Offended, and the line moves along,
But this stays with me; not the ashy
Eye as much as the instant when all
Could have been pain and awkward
But instead it led to mutual giggling.
We are born of dust and star-scatter
And unto this we shall return, this is
The Law, but meantime, by God, we
Can laugh our asses off. What a gift,
You know? Let us snicker while we
Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use
That which makes dark things quail.

The still pilgrim invents dawn

The still pilgrim climbs the Mountain of God.
She somehow has not lost her way.
Her feet find the prints where they have trod.
The sun feels less heavy today.
She holds him in her wind-chapped hands.
She shoulders him like a child.
She hoops him along the basalt sand.
She heaves him high against the sky
where he gilds the field gold.
The pilgrim watches his slow rise—
She loves the shadow show he throws—
salutes the blue and shades her eyes
and turns her back and goes.

Hey, Adam

Give me the green side of that apple,
the tree side, puckery, crisp.
And your mouth, stop sunning it.

Here! Give me a kiss.
On second thought, take it back! When you
domineered the animals, your fingers

useless in fists, I looked the given
in the mouth (your horsing and naming,
your curses). The gist: We’ve both had our due.

The worm’s in us. Yum. And we’re in this
together. The risk: Come. Whet wit
with me. Defy! Deify.

I’m a northerner, shade-grown, tall. I can reach
the top fruit, but no higher. See that Winesap,
King—you name it—up there? Catch

and imagine them huge—logo balloons,
image parades snaking the earth,
peopling the sky.