Poetry

Poetry

Kierkegaard’s canary

“and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself”

—Vigilius Haufniensis, “The Watchman” of Copenhagen, The Concept of Anxiety

Kierkegaard’s canary was happy
as a lark until Kierkegaard set

it free. Now the whole bright world
spins out beneath its flight, its heart
in palpitations. Yes; the whole

bright glorious world spins,
the whole bright, blinding world.

Sweeney’s

Hauled an old longsleeved cotton shirt out of the drawer
Yesterday and once again time ground gears and shifted
Back forty years and this very shirt which was then more
Shirt than holes is handed to me by my lean gruff almost
Always quiet tall older brother who is of course my hero
And I gape at him unbelievingly and say Really, for me?
And he nods and so I come into possession of his college
Shirt earned playing football for a tavern or something as
Quotidian as that but not for me, not at all for me—that’s
The point. Whatever we think is quotidian isn’t. The pub
Was called Sweeney’s. It closed long ago. I would not be
Surprised if this was the last Sweeney’s shirt in existence.
I’ll always have his shirt in a drawer. If I touch it, here he
Is in the room with me, smiling at how a shirt can make a
Kid speechless with astonished joy, even forty years later.
Isn’t that amazing? We hardly ever say how amazing it is
That you can freeze time and reverse it and make it caper
And spin it back to anywhere anyone you used to be. Isn’t
That amazing? A snatch of song, a scent, a battered collar,
A ratty old pub jersey. So many time machines. Yes, time
Wins. My brother withered and vanished. Yet here he sits
On the edge of the bed snickering at me as the shirt hangs
Way down past my knees. No religion owns resurrections.

Brancacci Chapel

Young Masaccio died before
his paint had dried, but
his time-battered fresco tells all:
how man in the midst of figs and wine
reaches for the whole banquet
and loses all but the crumbs,
which taste like poison.
 
Their sin is fresh; the doors of Paradise
slam while heel still crosses the threshold,
driven out by the upraised sword
of a crimson-winged messenger of God
who points their way to a world of dust.
His flowing garment billows
around their nakedness.
 
They walk toward us, look like us.
His woe is inward, head bowed.
His hands cover darkened eyes;
from his mouth, muffled sobs.
Yet he strides forward
to face the wilderness
which yet he does not comprehend.
 
She does. Her foreshortened face, skull-like,
gazes up into the looming abyss.
Eyes strokes of gloom,
from her mouth a scream of agony
for what she sees ahead:
needles passing in dirty rooms,
children shrunk to skeletons,
men strapped with bombs.

After the fact

I know you by the space
you leave empty.

I draw lines in the air
where the roof used to be.

I wait for you, Lord,
like a mailbox for a letter.

The grass still wonders
how the ground got there.

November funeral

(In memoriam, Roger Lundin, 1949–2015)

Outside the year’s first snow means crashes, spin-
outs, brutal shock to unprotected skin,
a harbinger of winter’s dreary night.

Inside is peace as through translucent panes
we view a world grown still where silence reigns
and trees are finely etched in tender light.

Deep under brutal, surging waves of grief
wild rushing waters pound with no relief
the unprotected bark of life capsized.

Yet deeper down there comes a still small voice,
“I am with you, in river’s rage rejoice
that all baptized with me in death shall rise.”

                    Advent 2015