Poetry

Poetry

Evening with long books

                                  Each man is a half-open door
                                  leading to a room for everyone.
                                                 —Tomas Tranströmer


My friends say Tolstoy really got into the heads of his female characters.
They give him credit. They talk dreamily of the books they love,
books so long only two will make a whole course. This seems to me
like making twelve gallons of chili and eating nothing else till it’s gone,
but I smile and listen. My friends are smarter than me and more patient,
surely. I’m the only guy in the house tonight so I get my own room
with a good foam mattress, a bad desk, windows that open on other rooms.
I make up the bed and lie down with Tranströmer’s poems, ten or twenty
lines on a page, fewer words in fifty years than Tolstoy or George Eliot
put down in a decent work week. Every man is a half-open door.

The door to my room is cracked open, lights blaze outside. My friends
are all upstairs. If I don’t shut the light off, no one will. The wind
will settle toward morning, the waves begin again to spell their single
complicated word. Waiting for the ferry we watched a hawk
try to lift a four-foot snake from the shallows, drop it, circle, swoop
and grab again and lose its grip and veer away. Oh, how sweet would
that meat have been, how grand a feast, how we would have cracked
and sucked the bones, how long we could have made that story last.

Terce: February

There must be a sutra that fits
this mess: lumps of melting snow
—markers of impermanence.
Once the unspoiled beauty
of fields of cotton, ski slope,
starlit sky—now shoveled and
ploughed, siphoned inward
by sun and gravity. Old snow
with all the elegance of gun-metal
helicopter blades churning overhead.
Soot-smudge tattoos on berms of it,
foot-stomped reminders
of imperfection, dirty laundry.

Only listen for hymn-licks
in the slap of slush from tires,
birdsong layered in like a gospel round.
Then join in, scanning twigs
of gray-barked trees for bud sprits—
that first portent of spring.

Come again?

“I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”
                                   —Luke 10:18

So John the Revelator got it wrong?
It wasn’t Michael and his angel throng

who threw the mighty Lucifer from his throne?
You’re telling me that seventy raw-boned

peasants passing barefoot from town to town,
carrying no money, no change of gown,

and sparing no time for chat with chance
encounters on the way—these sons who dance

among snakes and scorpions, whose quick steps
raise dust from heels to head—you mean these schleps

drew down from heaven upon unmapped squares
apocalyptic judgments no one dares

compare with those that wasted Sodom?
These day laborers harvested a kingdom?

These were the lambs who blacked the dragon’s eye,
who rumbled him down from his realm in the sky?

As I fall

           “this deep dread . . . is a great gift from God
           for it is the precise point of our encounter with his fullness.”
                                                                               —Thomas Merton

The old slough appears in this dream,
mudded, shallow, and with leeches gathered
in the overhanging grass along the banks.

The barricaded overpass floats forty feet
above the water, closed to buses, cars, and trucks.

It seems the briefest fall to an observer
on the shore. But new awareness comes
when the plunge protracts, weighted
like the purple-orange air of the Grand Canyon
dusk murmured up its eastern wall.

As I fall, time dissolves into something different
from eternity. I surrender to the dread
and to the peace of being and oblivion.

Death is merely incidental in this dream.
I watch my body as I feel bones crunch
against the earth, and hear my breath pass out of me
by a sort of mystical ventriloquy.

Sprawled on spongy ground beside the overhanging grass
as some vast something brushes past, dangerous
and gentle, I wait with patience to be devoured
or to be given second birth.

Poem for a dear friend

I don’t tell you how much it matters to me that you are my friend.
I’ll never tell you, bluntly and face to face. I can’t summon words
That way. They only come to my fingers occasionally if I’m silent
And give up thinking. Our fingers are a lot smarter than we know.
Like today when my fingers want to say something like: your gifts
To me have been ears and humor. We speak some strange language
That few other people speak. I don’t know why that’s so. It’s surely
An accident. It’s not like we set out to find each other in the tumult
Of this sweet wilderness. But we did somehow. You can put names
On the finding if you want. The names all mean the same thing. An
Old name is Providence, which is another way to say God, which is
A way to say We Have No Idea How, But We Are Aware of Grace.
There are more names for God than we’ll ever know, and one is you.