Poetry

Poetry

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.







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.

Georgia Baptists, Mercer settle on separation terms

Close to an hour more of light
since December’s solstice stood
the calendar on edge, balancing
my dwindling days between the here
and the hereafter.
This late January thaw
has turned thoughts to spring again,
those Holland-ordered bulbs I bedded
late into November already showing
green above the gray and crusted soil.
You’d think, with seventy winters now
beneath my crust, that I’d know better,
learn to stay hunkered warm against those drifts
that still must slump against the garage door.
Yet an old, insistent summoning,
wiser than winter’s experts,
sends me back to the seed catalogs,
makes me check trowel, fork and leaf mold,
bends my head to bloom and blossoms yet unseen
but lending never-ending fragrance
to every lifeless, frigid scene.



Ordinary time

These midwinter days that bridge
Epiphany to Lent
can seem anything but ordinary
as the steady waxing light reflects
across old December’s glaze of ice,
a biting wind hisses across
the stark bones of the bracken,
and treetops signal sparse
against a sky expecting still
more snow before nightfall.
Scarlet and speckled birds
announce themselves about
the brightness of the holly,
spray from the creek creates
bright frosted chandeliers among
the tangled overhanging branches,
and dusk draws down its spangling
of stars so crystalline they lift the eye—
heart too—toward a principality
that banishes any vestige
of routine predictability.
Ordinariness exists—if at all—
within the desiccated soul,
too distracted by its fearful self
to notice.