Poetry

Poetry

Yahweh at Mamre

We take turns monitoring the storm’s approach;
I’ve rolled the awnings, taken laundry from the lines.
Dull strips of cloud stretch from the west;
Wind-prodded, trees wake from an afternoon’s listlessness.

My wife completes one last stitch from her sewing.
In the lull, I read from Genesis: Yahweh.
Fed and rested in the shade of a terebinth tree,
Walks toward Sodom and Gomorrah, cities of the plains.

Their contempt, we can be sure, is unforgiven.
We know by instinct not to meddle with such intimacy.
The tornado sirens sound; all over town, citizens
Descend to their basements. The temperature drops.

Wind and rain begin their agony; divine demonstrations.
My wife kisses me, covered with the cinders of Lot’s hope.

The farm wife eats out at Marner’s Six Mile Café

Widowed farmers cram the table
near the peanut butter pies,

but I prefer the back booth
beneath a pike framed with flowers.

Under a coffee cup’s “Start your day
with Jesus,” I find Topeka Seed & Stove.

Once, when it was crowded,
we ate in the kitchen where an Amish

cook beats batter while flipping eggs
and watching toast. Annie doesn’t bring

us menus. She knows the girls and I
will order pancakes with cinnamon butter

faces. When my sisters visit, they say,
“Let’s go someplace with atmosphere.”

They mean a chain near the interstate
where they decorate with movie stars

and license plates, where the booths
are so tall, you can’t see your neighbors.

Lazarus

Perhaps you are perplexed to determine
how two such disparate stories could be told
about me. But the truth hides somewhere between
and beyond these accounts—I was neither a poor
beggar nor a wealthy intimate of God’s Son.

If in these tales I appear as a mere prop—a passive
player in parables concerned with actors who wielded
some form of genuine power—thus far you may credit
each tale: I had no voice. Dumb from birth,
the real miracle for me would have been to speak.

And yet this never seemed to me a curse or even a lack—
I grew to love my silence, and in my early years I was
thought to be simply shy as my maternal sisters
supplied my voice in public encounters. Indeed, their
ready reading of my intent was all the miracle I craved.

I neither anticipated nor needed any return from
the grave—that was about his need, his purpose,
not mine. And to be enfolded in the arms of Abraham
like some Isaac or Ishmael, my sight simply a torment
to some rich fool—what is that to me? To you?

Fluid mechanics

Sitting in a chapel high in the golden sculpted hills of California
A few minutes before Mass I reach down to a small wooden box
By my chair, where missals and songbooks are stored, and I find
A set of ancient eyeglasses folded into an old cloth case, so worn
That it feels like a pelt, and I realize that my chair must belong to
A certain sister here at the old mission. Maybe she’s here at Mass,
Trying not to be peeved that I snagged her seat. After Mass I ask
Around and a sweet nun with a cane says oh no, dear, that’s Sister
Maureen Mary’s seat. She passed over two years ago. She was tall
And hilarious and subject to fits of darkness. She’d been a student
Of engineering, a really brilliant girl, when she decided to join our
Community. Her parents were appalled, or as Sister Maureen likes
To say, aghast. She became a wonderful teacher with us. When she
Died we got hundreds of notes from her former students. Teachers
Have to cultivate the long view, as Sister said herself. You haven’t
Much immediate evidence of your labors. But you get flashes, here
And there, and hugs at the end of the year, she would say. She was
Still an engineer, she said—still actually working in fluid mechanics.
Her mom and dad began to visit once a year and then once a month.
Her sister never visited even once although she sent money. Sister’s
Parents died and willed us the truck in which they came to visit their
Daughter. We use it all over the place. You’ll see it go by today, for
Certain. When Sister died we left her glasses there just for moments
Like this, when someone discovers her. Often it is us, of course, and
We laugh, but then you spend the rest of the day remembering Sister
Maureen Mary, who is a most remarkable soul, whom I miss terribly.

Thomas Didymus

When Mary Magdalene     said she’d seen
the Lord     it was strangely disappointing
One of the worst women     saved from the street
to have been first     I knew it must be true
that’s just what he would do     but then
when I was the only one     to fight fear
& search for myself     the others lagging behind
it was like the soldier’s spear     went right through
me too     when I returned to hear
the others bragging    (that was the worst)
that I was the only one     not to have been there
not to have seen where his hands were pierced
I went into denial     I won’t believe     I said
Anything less than my fingers in his wounds
won’t be enough     My words sounded odd
to my ears     A week later I was among
them when he appeared     & called my bluff
My Lord & my God     Conviction rolled off my tongue