This is the last outrage, what women do
in secret, slipping their fingers under bras or nightgowns
on wild, moon-driven nights, needing to true
the circle of their breasts, wanting to lunge
below desire, beneath arousal and beyond
the sweet milk-happiness of feeding children
to find the nuclear godawful contraband
their bodies might be hiding—the refrain
danger, danger, singing in their minds.

At dusk I slip into a pew, enthralled,
alert, combing through the week to find
what might destroy me, to send it away.
Lawyer, accused, bent to root out scandal,
my hands judging. And also, maybe guilty.

Ash Wednesday

no bicep, no bone, no lung
and no cheek, so lean, not
even breath not even earth—
humus, placental—nothing
but dust nothing but ash
burnt up consumed—
not the predominant water
no song and no sound
no taste and no touch no hunger
not even age-lame or deaf
not even tomb-bound and rotting
no pain yes but also no feeling
no hope and no hunger
the end of I and I think
not I hurt or even am nothing
no cross on the forehead
no forehead no
thing at all.

Lessons in prayer, from a dog

He assumes his still posture
two feet from the table.
He is not grabby,
his tongue is not hanging out,
he is quiet.

He wants to leap,
he wants to snap up
meat and blood.
You can tell.
But what he does is sit
as the gods
his masters and mistresses
fork steak and potatoes
into their mouths.

He is expectant
but not presumptuous.
He can wait.
He can live with disappointment.
He can abide frustration
and suffer suspense.

He watches
for signals,
he listens for calls
of his name from above.

At hints that
he may be gifted
with a morsel,
he intensifies his
already rapt concentration,
he looks his god
in the eye,
but humbly,
sure of his innocence
in his need,
if his need only.

On the (often rare) occasions
when gifts are laid on his tongue,
he takes them whole,
then instantly resumes
the posture of attention,
beseeching, listening, alert,
the posture of hard-won faith
that will take no for an answer,
yet ever and again hopefully
return to the questioning.

John the Baptist at a country tent meeting, Jesus comes

Can you tell me what to want now? I can’t
go on, no turning back. We’d sing, “Jesus
on the main line, tell him what you want. Just
call him up, tell him what you want, what you want.”
But these six months, they came to me, I tell you—
tire tracks and footsteps flattened the grass ’round
the green tent—my words made such sound
toward the crowd—they bent, repented. But I knew
I was nothing, I just stalled in the river’s flow.
I waited for you, tensed as a dog’s hind leg
crouching before bread crusts and melon rinds.
Miz Black yowls “Call him up, call him up now!”
But you’re here, and I’m blown, a cattail’s sag,
I am birds dispersed—pepper in the wind.

Flames like people

Thank you, Morgan, preschool prodigy of likenesses.
I hadn’t considered my propane heater
so closely, its hot imagery, how, as you declared that winter evening
in my kitchen, munching a chip two-handed
like a squirrel, the heater’s line of flames looks like people.
And as your younger sister Ella whirled
in pink britches around the kitchen singing flames like people,
people dancing, and as you grinned
at your own brilliance and the brilliant line of half-blue half-orange folk
you culled up with spark of thought
and vapor of breath, I saw them too, figures swinging hips
with whippy fervor to the beat of ignition.

Born seeking likenesses, each of us. We secure a simile,
like the wild Ella scooped and wrapped
in her father’s arms, let it burn to purer metaphor, let it cool
as we celebrate, as we praise our precocity.
Really, we praise the world, we delight in its many
wrought likenesses.