Poetry

Poetry

Stillborn

When I was young,
Christmas wasn’t very much—
a balsam culled from the edge of a field,
colored balls in a tattered box,
durable strings of colored lights,
glorious music in local churches,
long, slow winter hours.

Now that I am four fifths old,
Christmas is so very much,
so bought and sold in Christian bulk,
   carols slammed down secular streets—
   bad or worse in slipshod churches.
What sea or landfill’s deep enough
to hold the glitter-smash
of all these broken ornaments?

. . . Who are you again?

I was a wise man,
literate in stars.
—and now—?

Ancient and uneasy in America,
wrapped in swaddling robes,
wheel-chaired, parked
beneath denatured swags
of falsely berried nevergreen,
I miss austerity.
I miss desert travel.
I miss the naive Christmases
when, four fifths young
in my frugal father’s house,
I wrote my hopes on a battered desk
in a shadowy hall upstairs—
the ceiling high and cold with draft
on dragging winter evenings
when there was no entertainment
but my mind unentertained,
    yet knowledge of approaching holiday.
Once I dreamed that I worked all night, forgetting—
then woke in the downstairs room
as warm as womb: the tree of light.

But most of all,
I miss how every modest Christmas morning,
disappointment in the presents
faded quietly and wisely, gone by breakfast
even for us children.



. . . but—who are you again?



    Melchior,
come back
in another searching time.
Searching for what?

The light from the star
that just now is arriving.
The astrologer? One of the three?
Why here?

Too much room at the Christian Inn.
And who would look for a Magus here
among this wreckage of untreasured age
and unmined memory?
Herod is alive and well
and killing babes for no reason at all.
This is the manger of 2005
and the hay is eating the oxen.
I do not understand you.

What is it in this saturated, satiated
anti-Midas age of yours
that everything you touch,
once gold, turns lead!
Even the holy babe we found
is new-born, yes! again this year,
       but four fifths dead.
Wait! Don’t wheel away—!
Listen—
Listen.
I’ll tell you what I still can see
on late-in-Advent evenings
in my clearest memory: the true Nativity–
my faithful father’s glowing tree
reflected in the tall black window panes of living room,
the colored lights imposed
on bare and frozen trees outside,
and that was it—the lead-to-golden bough,
like Gabriel’s who imposed on Mary’s how.

Like Christmas then on Christmas now.
Believe I do reject the artificial tree
and heart of modern Christmas “season”—

Are there any more like you?
Two or three in beds and halls
and cattle stalls
on every floor.

Will you take back one Christmas night,
one Christmas morning, only, for your use?
Will you refuse cartoonish “power” pointed
songs of praise (follow the bouncing ball)
projected in what used to be a sacred space,
and wait for writing by the hand on temple wall
Can we agree?
Joyfully!

Will you come with me?
Though I seem to nod in this cushioned chair
in the cushioned space of used-to-mean,
let word go forth in Herod’s time again:
we are at odds with the even powers
and will report to no one what we’ve seen.
We’ll secret the strains of ancient songs
of love bereft and hope long gone,
safe in heart, secure in mind,
singing the news between mourn and morn:
—for two or three of us old kings
          he is still born.































The question is one of ashes and dust

It is not my name, which you have already
inked into one interminable book or the other. Also,
not what virtue I’ve claimed to store up

in two unrelenting fists. Also, not the hands
which wrap around them, these hands
from which I feed, strong though they are,

but defiled. On the Eve of the End of it All,
it is only this: how my lips catch fire,
how I burn exactly, an effigy in my heart, awful

as an offering. How the darkness blesses its shadow
as the indigent lauds his begging bridge. How like a virgin
I’ve trimmed my wick. How well I can wrestle

your mystery to the ground, Angry Angel.
How I blunt my feathers on the blade of your tooth.
How I bleed like Christ through the white of my dress,

my fingers so steady, so stained.









Poem found

. . . And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst
of the waters” and into the dome God put

the poor, the addicts, the blind and the oppressed.
God put the unsightly sick and the crying young

into the dome and the dry land did not appear.
And God allowed those who favored themselves

born in God’s image to take dominion over
the dome and everything that creeped within it

and made them to walk to and fro above it
in their jumbo planes and in their copy rooms

and in their conference halls. And then
God brooded over the dome and its multitudes

and God saw God’s own likeness in the shattered
tiles and the sweltering heat and the polluted rain.

God saw everything and chose to make it very good.
God held the dome up to the light

like an open locket and in every manner called
the others to look inside and those who saw

rested on that day and those who didn’t
went to and fro and walked up and down

the marsh until the loosened silt gave way
to a void, and darkness covered the faces with deep sleep.



















Autumnal diary

Behold, I am sending forth many fishers, says the Lord, and they shall catch them. (Jeremiah 16:16)

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

At noon the Church of the Epiphany,
on this the long anticipated Date
with Destiny on which we’re told the Fate
of Almost All depends, is strangely free
of angst. The good-sized crowd is here to see
a choir perform Cantata Eighty Eight
and hear Johann the angel Bach relate
a snatch of puzzling Bible history:
God is at first an angry fisherman
who hunts in righteous wrath our sinful kind
but then Christ stoops and speaks, wrath is undone
by love, reality is redefined,
Ohio pales, the stained glass glows blood red,
the hapless fish are named, called, calmed and fed.







The River Lee near dark

           What people seeking solace do—they wait
until the light goes low. It’s then they’ve seen
a shadow here and there. They’ve often looked
           to touch once more a face beside the gate.

           Engaged in talk, or walking toward the pier,
they learn one word might lead them well
beyond the ways—it’s nearing late—familiar:
           out past the oaks, the trails, the salmon weir

           where waters thrum—now flash a silverwhite.
I’d follow you, he says, and next, Which way?
He stills to narrows kept for years in check.
           What people, lost, endure to see things right.