Poetry

Poetry

Strewn

It’d been a long winter, rags of snow hanging on; then, at the end
of April, an icy nor’easter, powerful as a hurricane. But now I’ve landed
on the coast of Maine, visiting a friend who lives two blocks from the
      ocean,
and I can’t believe my luck, out this mild morning, race-walking along the
      strand.
Every dog within fifty miles is off-leash, running for the sheer dopey joy
      of it.
No one’s in the water, but walkers and shellers leave their tracks on the
      hardpack.
The flat sand shines as if varnished in a painting. Underfoot, strewn, are
      broken
bits and pieces, deep indigo mussels, whorls of whelk, chips of purple
and white wampum, hinges of quahog, fragments of flat gray sand
      dollars.
Nothing whole, everything broken, washed up here, stranded.
Light pours down, a rinse of lemon on a cold plate
of oysters. All of us, broken, some way or other. All of us
dazzling in the brilliant slanting light.

Lament

In the sixth week in the beautiful city it all threatened
to go awry, too many days of cloud and drizzle, too much time

to sit idly with neither reliably bad American cable
nor the usual cohort of neighbors and associates,

overfamiliar or not. How many times could we study
the cloud-shrouded mountains, the muddy stretch waiting

to dry and go under the asphalt? How many churches
could we wander into, ponder briefly for their artwork

and architectural features (Roman, baroque, gothic,
even all three in one multilayered building,

assembled over a whole millennium), the silent arches,
the bare bulbs dangling from 40-foot cords, the iron gates

and wistful announcements of occasional services?
How many evenings, even, the skies suddenly clear

and the Untersberg bare and muted in the southeast,
the western slopes open and shadowed at the same time,

the sun descending unstoppably to the courts of some lost empire?















The privilege of water is . . .

That here in the deepest water,
beyond even rags of light,
nearly transparent creatures glitter and flash
like neon signs floating
down the Las Vegas strip;

That as recently as seven years ago
liquid water flowed down
an arroyo on Mars,
shifting sands and turning small rocks, a pattern
like a palm print on a rusting door;

That on a cold night
water vapor makes visible the breath
of small children, who laugh
to see themselves breathe,

and makes visible the broken breath
of old men forgetting their children in refugee camps,
and the drying breath of prisoners in stone cells,
whose mothers and sisters believe they’re long dead;

That in the beginning the Spirit
moved over the waters like a mighty wind;
that the spirit moves through water even now, even now
through the straw held to a sick man’s lips,
blessed from basin to scallop shell
to the forehead of a crying child;
That we are from conception
almost entirely water.











Cold comfort

The way Herod liked to listen to John the Baptist,
summoning him from his cell for private chats
but could make no sense of what he said; the way
Festus kept the apostle Paul locked up for two years
because he enjoyed hearing him talk, although his words
made him afraid; the way the German guards, terrified
by night bombings, sought out Pastor Bonhoeffer,
even though he was, by his own account, a provider
of cold comfort, writing to a friend, “I can listen all right,
but hardly ever find anything to say. Yet perhaps the way
one asks about some things and is silent about others
helps suggest what really matters”—did not stop
the sharp rap on the prison door or the words “get ready
to come with us” as if for one more quiet conversation
about what really matters.

To the gleaners

You do not need me to bless you
for the shorn field easily gives up its treasure
into your baskets. Your quick fingers
conjure food out of early morning mist,
and in this light even the dumpster
gives up its chipped vase, its clawfoot end table.
The sidewalk gives up its clear brown bottle.
You do not need me to bless you
but I will anyway wish you clear sight
into the world’s crevices and corners.
Harvest the chives flowering under the workbench.
Harvest the copper tubing looped in the scrap pile,
the chrome fendered bicycle at the sidewalk sale.
Clamp the broken slats of the chair together.
Restring the guitar. And let your metal detectors
whine always with joy. May you find all you seek,
because at the end of the story
the woman knots up her apron
heavy with grain, then steals up to the sleeping body
of the man who does not yet love her.
And when she lies down next to him
she will gather even the scent of his sleep—
the smell of all future harvests, ripening.