Poetry

Poetry

Waiting for the volcano

for R. H.

Our high-speed hydrofoil is late.
We wait in the island’s worst places,
Aeolian churches. Bartholomew,
the aging patron saint, drapes
his flayed skin over one arm,
a sommelier or thespian.
Harrowing renders us raw,
unclods soil and frees a captive field.
The boatman hectors lesbians,
insists on learning where they swim.
I’m glad you don’t understand
the Italian that I barely can.
There’s nowhere on this island
that doesn’t turn us more
against ourselves or one another—
too many days in paradise
for minds like ours.

“Travel light”

Command or description, I want
to glow as I walk through my day,

as I glide through the halls
of the nursing home where I find you

dozing in your bed. I want you
to see how I’m learning to float,

the air thinning between our kisses.
And yet, the weight—harvest of moon

and fruit heavy with sugar. In August
heat I lift a melon, smell this long

summer pressed against the earth,
what I will carry to you tomorrow,

offering slices of remembrance.

Put on the new self

Colossians 3:10

Twenty-five years after Praying the Prayer,
when my new life was supposed to snap in place
like elastic, the smell of crisp, store-rack cotton
propelling me to run with endurance
toward a finish line I could not see,

I lie on the couch with a sour-smelling terrier
curled in the crook of my leg. Today
I will bathe him, punch through three Keurig cups,
run a trumpet book to the grammar school.
No martyrdom here, no preaching in the streets,
though tomorrow I might plant another bag of daffodils
so in April I can kneel in the gold
and thank All Things New once more.

But now I turn my eyes to things above
in the window, squirrels gibbering in the canopy
of my backyard maple. I doze and wake
to their claws skittering down the trunk,
mentally etch the face of Christ in the bark.

He doesn’t need me. He wants me.
Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, tired
nor on fire. I will slip into newness again,
fluff the shaking, sodden dog in His name
as He drapes me with his soft and silent weaving.

Poem after Sunday morning church service in a tent

In a huge hotel where the concierge told me there had been count them
Three weddings the day before, which is why they erected the epic tent.
I got there early and watched people file in. The tall guitar player asked
Me if I was the minister. The minister turned out to be a lady who once
She got started talking never really stopped except for the music. When
The songs started everyone except me stood and held hands and swayed.
I am a Catholic man and we only hold hands with children and we don’t
Sway. I tried for a while to figure out what species of church service this
Was but you just could not tell. There was swaying, which seemed to
Be Baptist, and discussion of sacrifice and fasts, which seemed Calvinist,
And there were tall people with excellent teeth who seemed Mormonish,
And there was talk of the Spirit and the One and suchlike, which seemed
Unitarian to me, but then I heard the name Christos . . . Greek Orthodox?
For a minute there I wondered if there would be snake-handling or maybe
A sudden burst from the Koran, or a pause while we discussed the Torah,
But the service stayed determinedly undeterminable. In the opening salvo
Of this service I was amused, thinking that it might be something offered
By the hotel for its guests, an attractant, some expensive consultant’s idea
For adding value to your stay at the hotel, and I marveled at the marketing
Brilliance of it—welcoming everyone, offending no one, proffering ritual
Without trademark, adding bonus usage to the rent of the tent, as well as
Excellent community relations. But soon I stopped being amused and was
Moved, despite the endless blather of the minister. People had come to be
Moved. They had come to hold hands and sing. There were bright ribbons
On the folding chairs by the aisle to signal the bride’s or the groom’s side.
There was a man’s green tie knotted to a tent stake. There were tiny babies
In their mother’s arms. There was a man hunched in a wheelchair. Why do
We ever bother to argue about religion? All religions are the same glorious
Wine, susceptible to going bad but capable of quiet joyous gentle elevation.
They’re all useful and useless, mesmerized and ruined by power, but always
Pregnant with the possibility of humility. They are so easy to ignore. You’d
Be wise to sneer, with every reason imaginable for the curl of your knowing
Lip. Yet here I am, on Sunday morning, in the wedding reception tent, agog;
Not so much at the earnest idiot of a minister, but at everyone, sweetly, else.

Poem for a son going off to college

Looking at photographs of the kids. One of them is going
To college tomorrow. I used to wear that kid like a jacket.
He fell asleep instantly given the slightest chance. School,
The car, even once during a time-out at a basketball game,
Although to be fair he was the point guard and had played
The whole first half and been double-teamed. He could be
Laughing at something and you’d turn away to see a hawk
Or his lissome mom and when you turned back he was out.
But tomorrow he’s in the top bunk in a room far away. We
Will leave the back porch light on for him out of habit and
In the morning we will both notice that it’s still on and one
Of us will cry right into the coffee beans and the other will
Remember that it felt like all the poems we mean when we
Say words like dad and son and love when I slung that boy
Over one shoulder or another or carried him amidships like
A sack of rice or best of all dangling him by his feet so that
All the nickels he put in his pockets for just this eventuality
Poured down like something else we do not have words for.