Poetry

Poetry

Rondel: Beside water at nightfall

So near to evening, thoughts against thought will run,
    unsettled in currents: fish, aswim down suddened light.
    Upon the bank, I’ve slowed to discern the turn toward night
in the songs of birds. Even water itself is by dark undone.

Trees and road, hill and distance—all coaxed into one.
    Stern shapelessness, I cannot place myself. Wouldn’t know right
so near to evening. Thoughts against thought will run,
    unsettled in currents: fish, aswim down suddened light.

like this, then—boat that drifts for the shore, done
    with floating blind. At the edge of my vision, a white
    something. Sand bar? Rock break? There’s not enough sight
to say. Will I learn at last how much such doubts have won?
So near to evening, thoughts against thought will run.







What ever happened to the Baby Jesus?

Near chamomile and rosebud potpourri
a pair of porcelain camels rest, bit players
glazed and unaware of this faux Nativity.
Peasant extras lift their silent, pleasing prayers
with seasonal adoration. None harbors
signs of panic: no goats or stable maids,
no wise trio, those dazzled star readers
bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh.
Not the puzzled carpenter from Galilee.
Not the curious shepherds, nor the virgin
exhausted still from her spotless labor.

These figures encircle a barren trough.
Where have you gone, O lost Christ child?
In truth, the Messiah’s size is the stuff
of legend: he’s been abducted. (No Ascension-
Come-Early before the ministry begins)
Not much bigger than a packing peanut,
the babe’s become an object of devotion,
begotten for those tenacious paws’ wild
swatting or mouth that totes the Savior in haste.
We spy the vacancy and know the culprit:
fat Larry, golden pear and roly-poly cat,

that ring-tailed and recidivist felon.
Regular brigand of the infant Son,
he mocks this fragile coffee-table cast.
We joke that his is a holy commission,
converting birthplace to an empty tomb,
Bethlehem yoking the born and risen.
Each time He’s someplace new: laundry room
or water dish. Under chair, in basement,
unknown manger now. And still His grace
and tiny lacquered limbs feel ever present,
embodying their reliquaried space.

In Advent

Among the drift of lists across my desk,
this one—“call the cemetery for reservations,”
a narrow room for my body at final rest.

I will ask, is there an open space
somewhere near my mother or brother? Room
for two, perhaps, among the roots of cedars

under the sod and the one who now rolls
over it on his mower, mustache damp
in December fog, his headphones full of love songs.

We’re in the time of waiting for our salvation,
that slow movement toward the final night,
when light is nothing but breath inside

a cave, earth hiding its treasure until
we are ready to receive it. That place
we travel toward like the Magi, weary

and expectant, laying our gifts on the straw.









Ave Maria

Why does the angel always hold out a lily?
Is it because she is a lily of a lady;
As lithe and surprising, as pearlescent?
Or because the starring petals trumpet good news?

Or was she essentially being asked
to consider the lilies;
pulling sidereal considerations
down to the lilies of the field?

And these lilies with magenta freckles,
spring-green ribbed where the petals fold,
looking like blood and passion with
their fragrance of spice and memory.

Isn’t looking into their center to glimpse glory;
to spiral to heaven, dew-eyed, dusted
and trailing copper pollen?
Is there any other word but yes?









Poems

Heavy

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poets said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled—
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?



Coming to God: First days

Lord, what shall I do that I
can’t quiet myself?
Here is the bread, and
here is the cup, and
I can’t quiet myself.

To enter the language of transformation!
To learn the importance of stillness,
    with one’s hands folded!

When will my eyes of rejoicing turn peaceful?
When will my joyful feet grow still?
When will my heart stop its prancing
    as over the summer grass?

Lord, I would run for you, loving the miles for your sake.
I would climb the highest tree
to be that much closer.

Lord, I will learn also to kneel down
into the world of the invisible,
    the inscrutable and the everlasting.
Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree
    on a day of no wind,
bathed in light,
like the wanderer who has come home at last
and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things;
every motion; even words.



Cormorants

All afternoon the sea was a muddle of birds
black and spiky,
long-necked, slippery.

Down they went
into the waters for the poor
blunt-headed silver
they live on, for a little while.

God, how did it ever come to you to
invent Time?

I dream at night
of the birds, of the beautiful, dark seas
they push through.



These poems are excerpted from Mary Oliver's book Thirst (Houghton Mifflin), used wth permission of the publisher and the author.