Poetry

Poetry

Laughter

When I’m reading a joke out loud
from a new joke book, I hear
my voice start to falter, from laughter,
almost to weep, from laughter,
the way my sister’s voice did as a child
or a woman, especially if somebody
made a bathroom joke; and my father’s
voice did, when he wasn’t just poking
fun at someone, when he found
something really funny; slapstick
got him laughing that way, sometimes.
A laughter beyond words, maybe
beyond grief. As I hear myself
laughing like them, with them,
I say: a laughter beyond death.

Ready or not

The readiness is all, he says, but I’m not
ready, not for this: the bluebird back before
her time—that is, if she ever left—the winter
soft as summer mist when pink buds swell
too soon, surprising. Which should, it seems,
be cause for joy, but, yet again, it is not so,
for on this fragile island earth, ice fields melt,
dark waters rise, and sweeping north in wild
flight, swans bear within them seeds of death,
not yet in bloom, but it will come when warbler,
wood duck, raven, wren drop from the silent sky
like stones; and in the green dawn no birds sing.

Who's who

      But Martha was distracted with much serving (Luke 10:40)

And why do we assume that Martha is the elder of the two?
Maybe she is the younger one, always stuck
with Mary’s chores while Mary practices meditation,

her yoga, her imaging, maybe arranges
crystals on the living-room floor.
Martha has been abandoned

in the kitchen for years, lifting the stone pitchers
of water from off the porch with both hands
day after day, her young back giving way

under the strain, pouring out her youth to provide
her older sister and this latest rabbi of hers
another of her good portions.

Wayfaring strangers

This is a Spiritual War, you’ve got to understand that,
says the man on NPR. I’m getting out of my car

when his voice grabs hold, pulls me toward the dial.
My son died last week, he says, Humvee hit a mine—

it’s a Spiritual War. Anybody who doesn’t believe
me, just look right there in the Bible, you’ll see.

Right there, I say to him—yeah, like the Word is some dog-eared
road atlas. Just thumb down the index to Spiritual Warfare,

subheading Iraq, and you’ll see it all mapped out
right there waiting for you. No interpretation

required. Look right there and you’ll know how
to deploy, when to attack, where to stand when

it all goes down. My wife calls from the porch and I release
my stranglehold on the steering wheel. How long

have I sat, car door ajar, one foot grounded, parsing
this man’s language of loss? Oblique rays

of dusk cut swaths of light across the meadow,
halted only at pasture’s edge by a stand

of sweet gums. The trees reach, lean into the light,
pulling me with them; thus we bend,

blind pilgrims all, tilting
toward a New Jerusalem.























Fallen

For we are fallen like the trees . . .
                Wendell Berry

Still teeming with green
The body of branches my children once climbed

Lay fallen on our lawn. Through our window
We’d watched the storm’s silver arm

Fling a rain-swelled axe into our white ash.
Watched its torso split. Watched one half lean

Into nothing, drop like a scarf.
And after, we sawed the massive bough,

Sorting the limbs still so
Electric with life, that green

Burned onto our hands and legs
While dust like ashes

Settled to the ground.