Poetry

Poetry

Jewel in the heart

It came to me as I waited at the desk, thinking how to turn
another scattered group toward the day’s work: I want a bell.
Not the electric commands that drilled through our younger days,

not some jingly tinkle. No, something small but clear—a signal,
a reminder, a request. After Christmas we went looking
and my son found a pair of heavy, small brass disks joined

by a leather thong at the import place in town. They had eight
raised symbols in a ring, some scratchy lettering inside.
When he struck them the pure tone hung for seven seconds

in the air, shimmering and clean as the sun. Of course I bought them.
Each day now I put them on the desk, try to keep them quiet.
They want nothing but to ring. They desire not to join but to meet.

When it’s time I hold the thong close to each disk and strike them
at right angles to each other, as I learned from a man who told me
that their true name is tingsha, that in Tibet the monks strike them

when minds start to ramble. Inside, he told me, were the great
and ancient words, Om mani padme hum. We might say: See the jewel
in the heart of the lotus. He rubbed the symbols on the top: here

is the conch shell, he said, here the prayer wheel, the umbrella,
the flower. The students smile each time I strike the chimes,
hold them as the sound wavers, fades. It lasts such a long time.

Such a short time. And then we begin, teasing new sounds
from the old tongue as we can, taking the next steps across
the rocky plain, following the smoky thread on the horizon.

We fold out the map and it tells us where we might be.
We study the compass and it offers some names. We open
the timepiece and it says, Be quiet. Bring the chimes together.















Vinalhaven ferry, siren song

Disarming, really, this surging night-dark water.
A harbor seal slips, oil-black, into the sea’s
engulfing folds. On the ferry, three girls eat cherries,

slurp ruby juice from fruit, palm and finger,
linger over pulp. Those black, sea-skimming
cormorants dive into Atlantic waves,

then rise with hooked beaks full.
Three girls consume that succulent fruit,
spit brown pits into crimson hands, pluck plump

cherries from a red-soaked plastic bag.
Their mother leans upon a rail, enthralled
by thoughts of a crustacean mob at work

beneath the shuddering sea. The ferry sways
on night-dark swells, heaves toward
nuns and cans. Bare legs dangling

and rose-wet hair tangling, three girls ripen
hands in flesh, drizzle chins with wine.
A hidden ledge, a granite coast, a fierce,

a laughing tide. Beguiled by forgotten currents,
you cannot not imbibe—three girls, mouths
dripping cherry juice, foreheads scarlet-streaked,

tap feet and pluck again, beauty no excuse.













Nativity figure speaks

I felt it, riding through the afternoon—
the nights are getting shorter and it’s cold
and then the baby shifted in my womb
and the innkeeper sent us to his sandy field.
I did what I was made to do. And now
who knows what else is possible? God’s breath
moves against the soft nose of the cow.
The moon shines on this shed and on the path
where you lean, watching us. Who are you?
I am the round yon virgin of your song.
You are the sky the light is passing through,
and you are the iron moonlight. You’re sweet fresh-
smelling hay. You’re Bethlehem, the tall kings.
Reach out, release us from this wooden crèche.

What we heard on Christmas Day

Silence like early morning, like indigo
Deepening at the bottom of the sea.
For hundreds of years.

No voice to say this is the way.
Or tomorrow, he comes. They raised
Their questions, rose each morning, found

No answers. Unless you count
Wait. But after the hush
Of prophecy, the long line of law,

Exile centuries ago just a bitter aftertaste
In their empty mouths, sting
Of dust on their ribs dulled, almost imperceptible,

A baby wailed. And if you listened close,
You knew your ears did not deceive you.
He had entered the ebony tomb

Of Earth, loosening at last his long-held tongue,
The star a halo of song blaring overhead,
God is not dead, nor does he sleep.









A communion of tools

Each time I visit, my father gives me
The things that are sold from weekend driveways—
A painting, old golf clubs, assorted books.
Before it’s too late, he says, repeating
That caution bimonthly for nineteen years
Because the Bible says threescore and ten.

But lately, they’ve been practical, these gifts,
Things requiring muscle, as if some part
Of him might enter me through communion,
Transubstantiation happening when
I take these things in my hands, receiving
His body and blood in the church of work,
Believing I will take it through my hands,
That forgiveness will follow when I fill
His role as oldest, feeling him return
In the useful things lifted one morning,
The rake and clippers, the shovel and hoe.

Beside the porch, this afternoon, his gifts
Are clustered like possibilities raised
By numbers—a sickle, a pick, a scythe.
“One last thing,” he says, waving me inside
Where I imagine vacuum cleaner, broom,
A year’s-stiff mop, following his shuffle
Until, in his bedroom, he says, “Not these.
Just look,” showing me nail file and tweezers,
Cuticle scissors, the small implements
Of grooming left behind by my mother,
What he won’t part with, flexing those scissors
With finger and thumb, ready to receive.