False Solomon’s seal

                                    (Maianthemum racemosum)

False Solomon’s seal, you trade
     in frankincense and myrrh,
          filling the forest with your fragrance.

There is a wisdom in the ladder
      of your leaves, clasping their way
           to each perfusion of scent and blossom.

Multiplied beneath the sunlit spaciousness
     of Douglas fir, you make a Milky Way
          of stars, as if the skies had poured

themselves into our lap, born
     again as a field of flowers, one vast aroma,
          calling us to a true home.

                                         —North Cascades National Park


Sometimes, certain mornings, we are born again,
our feet traveling the floor new feet, new floor,
our windows watching us as we cat-stretch, all new

to see our yard staring, blossoming,
these flowers we newly planted yesterday
more wide-eyed than when we put them to bed.

We’ve never seen such hue regard the sky,
every impatiens plant’s uplifted head
jubilant, defiant, red, on red, on red.

After such streaming light comes to our hands
like stigmata to the saints, we shower and wait,
the old terror, our familiar, on its way—

the shaving or the make-up mirrors will hold
our bones a death mask fits, then mirror back our yards—
nothing the same color, nothing, sun’s every glance.

Some observations about creation in early spring

I guess it’s fairly organized,
I mean, the stream nicely divides
two hills from each other, and trees
grow up the ridge—there’s open ground,
and above it a hundred vultures turn
like clockwork, black gears in the sky,
and there’s a snake, and a little girl
who’s picking speckled violets,
and, following a sense of order,
she’s turning, too, in absolute
delight. I just can’t see one part
existing, or meaning really, without
requiring every other part
also to exist and to mean and, when
you think of heavenlier things—
the complicated turning up there—
it just gets out of hand, and now
my mind can’t hold the thought of it,
like a cloud passing across the sky,
a wispy, cottony cloud in motion.
Creation does not divide itself—
I’m glad to learn that much today.
And apparently I’m blind to seeing
the thread that binds it all together,
and then as the cloud becomes mere sky
I think, my God, there isn’t a thread.

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?