Poetry

Poetry

Standing still in insect season

When it touches you, you will keep still,
in spite of black flies hovering—
fiercely itching, lumpish red spots to come—
feeling the day lighten, half-laughing
at yourself, you look so silly

with a butterfly on your arm.
Flawless wings open—orange, deep-brown—
and close to make one dead leaf,
on each side a tiny silver sickle,
moonsliver, which gives it the name,

Comma. Knobbed antennas in front
like turned-around exclamation marks.
Meaning, in the Beginning, when butterflies
were made, for the first time the Word
needed a speck of punctuation.











After the biopsy

“Each time that we have some pain to go through, we can say to ourselves quite truly that it is the universe, the order and beauty of the world, and the obedience of creation to God that are entering our body. After that, how can we fail to bless with tenderest gratitude the Love that sends us this gift?”
                                —Simone Weil

The pathology report an icon; the tissue
staining the slide, God’s kaleidoscope.
And those cells, obeying their DNA,
cosmic dust as they whirl and split.
Why not praise cancer, relentless, blind,
that seeks and finds the lymph and blood?
Because I am unthankful, rude.
Because if I linger over this gift,
I will change, I will vanish from the earth.
In Russia, an icon of Mary has wept
for twenty years. Mary, do you see
my nuclei mutating, like words
in “whisper down the lane”? This same God
took your son away. Help me disobey.





The recovery of buried poems

Root is what I am, rootpoet
here at home among the worms,
finding here the poem’s terms.”
—Miklos Radnoti, August 8, 1944
If, as it seems, art is nothing, nothing at all—
some sleep only that lulls us toward trees,
what to make of these poems, Miklos,
where you ordered a life into lines?
That brutal stumble through the mountains
might have said enough. Or those curses sneered
by villagers, one pausing near the water well
to dust and dust his sleeves. Finally, you with the rest,
worn through, too settled for another step,
were forced to dig and dig your graves, then

kneel at last on the uncalmed earth there.
What is that light against the fields? Why,
after all that had been done? They sought
to sever tongues from thoughts—those soldiers,
certain in their silence, who carved from hurt
this tender fruit words could have grown
and given seed. Miklos, these hidden poems,
found folded in your pocket. . . . Prove, history,
how the world speaks deeper than decay:
this murmur pulled from underground,
with its challenge of a purer sound and song.

Climbing the pasture, I lowered my head

Through lashes,
saw the weave of the crocus
blowing backwards, and in this motion
recognized my life,
the full sadness of existence,
but wanted it still:
the earth and its sugars, these days
like a bridge I could cross.

Perspective

In medieval paintings, the cobbler stood just inches high
        beside the saints, who rose like water towers,
until Brunelleschi thought up single point perspective,

and proved it, lines receding to a speck on the horizon.
        Once people saw it, they couldn’t forget:
the statues and churches kneeling to just one lover.

How thrilling! To stand at the commanding point.
         Each of us at the center! It’s the great
myth of the personal. Dutiful art teachers swung

the myth in buckets to the next teachers
        until generations later, it bears
the heft of Truth. That is, it did, until the night

I drove the death car, when the sky slit open
        to admit two headlights, double moons
drilling larger and larger holes through darkness

as they bore their terrible gift, two thousand pounds
         of metal toward me, and suddenly I saw the flaw
in Brunelleschi’s myth of the personal. Which of us

can bear to hold the whole world on his lap?
         I swerved then, or something swerved me,
spinning the steel off center so the car did not kill me.

Instead, I floated briefly, picking the lock of the improbable,
        feeling like a patron suspended
in a medieval painting—that one wearing

his everyday red hat and blue cloak,
        keeping his face businesslike,
trying not to say AhHa as he strides up the golden sky.