Poetry

Poetry

Ash Wednesday

Now forty winters have besieged this brow
that bears the mark of ashes once again,
its shallow furrows yielding to time’s plow
as, on command, I turn and turn again.
With every year the mark goes deeper still
and stays there longer than the year before,
reminding me, despite my flesh’s will,
there comes a spring when I’ll be marked no more.

Yet still I bow and part my graying hair
to make way for the dust that makes us all,
the mortal touch, the cross traced in the air,
the voice that tells me to regard the fall
        that each of us must know before we rise
        and raise unwrinkled brows to greet God’s eyes.

To Mr. Auden in a time of war

     In the nightmare of the dark
     All the dogs of Europe bark,
     And the living nations wait,
     Each sequestered in its hate
                              W. H. Auden

In this dark time, I want to make light bigger,
to throw it in the air like a pizza chef,
to stick my fists in, stretching it
till I can get both arms into radiance to the elbow
spinning it above us.

But oh, dark is such a genius at argument,
using all the rhetorical figures.
And you aren’t bad yourself, Mr. Auden,
elucidating war, how it subtracts and subtracts light
till each nation becomes a blind man
alone in his own dark, gripping
his cane, unable to cross to his lover
who waits by the pizza parlor. Unable even to see her,
unable to sing out to her
the way a lover might sing out, Susan, it’s you!

In truth, the dark is that personal, fluttering
like a red moth behind my eyelids.
My Texas cousin lies dead this afternoon
and his widow’s at the Funeral Home
with their child, trying to explain where he went.
Isn’t that the brilliant final move
of dark, Poof! to separate us from each other?
Between us, Mr. Auden, you and I have multiplied

the dark till some might say there’s
no escape. But seeing darkness
is seeing something. Maybe that’s why,
as Susan crosses to the blind man, I notice the horizon
begins leaking into the sky. Light reaches
the treetops. It falls in chutes. And then, god help us, like everything, it
     breeds and breeds.







The meaning of birds

Snow falling into my open hands.
Like grace. Like mercy, I say.
Flecks of light from heaven.
Splinters of struck stars.

The birds fly frantic.
They can’t keep the snow
from their feathers
so fast it falls and free.

Something says keep moving.
Keep moving or you’ll die.
Stiff wings and a stopped heart
the price of rest.

They leap from branch to branch,
flap their bodies dry,
glide and light and glide again,
heads hunched in the wind.

What will fill their hunger,
stoke the flame of beating wings
when what lives lies buried
beneath the soft weight of white?

What mercy for the birds,
seed of sky and worm of earth?
The grace in my full hands
comes a cold, slow sleep.









Michelangelo and the angels

The trouble is the halo. He’s never dissected one,
prying it open with a blade under cover of night
to determine its component parts: seeking with his
fingertips for the thin band of cartilage that holds
it erect, or the branched nerves channeling light
as coldly steady as foxfire on a rotting log.
The same goes for wings. Without evidence
from his cadavers, he dispenses with them,
painting angels as fit as young quarrymen
and pasta-loving cherubs to whom aerodynamic
principles will never apply. Even God looks
as if he climbs into bed each night stiff
from a hard day’s work but not ready for sleep,
his brain crammed with thumbnail sketches
of airy beings aglow with inexhaustible fuel
flying by faith in unborn Bernoulli’s constant.



Jacob's Ladder

At first, I saw their faces, close together,
And in their distance they were like the weather,
The satisfaction found in abstract thought,
The feeling of the sunlight when it’s caught.

Then they moved closer, barefoot on the ladder,
And less transparent as they moved toward matter.
And so it was that they became more human,
Their otherness unfolded to illumine

How I could be. Inside my human body,
I tried to understand, but was not ready.
I slept. I watched the swaying of the rungs,
Heard whispering of nighttime on their tongues—

Then nothing but the planets in their voices.
The space they left was filled with human choices.