Poetry

Poetry

". . . and our hearts are restless . . ."

Pontificating to the very last,
I speak my feeble voice to the void,
Caught by the lure Abba-Mater has cast.

Though wise ones shun a loud iconoclast,
Titanic times demand one must be heard,
Pontificating to the very last.

The time for kissing rings of power is past,
Emoluments I sought I now avoid,
Caught by the lure Abba-Mater has cast.

I am gill-caught, like Peter, in a net,
And I’ve betrayed, and wept, whimpering guilt,
And still pontificated to the last.

Jahweh has set sheer longing in the soul,
Nostalgia’s gravity, pure restlessness,
Dangling the lure Mater-Abba has cast.

The requiem the mighty Mozart sought
Is always there, not here; and for this while,
Pontificating to the very last,
I take the lure Mater-Abba has cast.









Daredevil

Sunday afternoons, she rolled off her stockings
to cross beams girding my grandfather’s barn.
She was fifteen and longed for something in the dark
leafy boughs she couldn’t quite reach. Balancing
on a hand-hewn rafter was nothing more
than stepping out on a limb and the humid hour
held its breath, the twittering sparrows fell silent.
Dust shivered suspended as she passed through
shafts of light austere as a coronation. This
was before she coiled her braids under a covering
and took her place in a kitchen with its slick checkered
floor and the tick of a clock she had to rewind.
For one immortal summer, girders hung
taut as strings her steady feet could strum.

Tattooists

Are these Christian tattooists
in the paper any stranger—Simon Stylites spent
a life standing on a stone pillar, sixty feet up—
did not come down for cramps or winter rain.

Could I survive the Sacred Heart with “Hail, Mary,
Full of Grace” across my arm, or
the crucifixion in three colors
against my sternum between my breasts.
Needles to skin over
soft tissue is less painful,
but flesh is grass and sags—
art lasts best close to bone.

No stranger than hair shirts,
hundreds of needles for hours, for days, even years,
to get the complete St. Michael on my shoulder to the writhing,
twisting dragon down my leg.
Or my whole life to get the Last Supper
with Stations of the Cross, and the proper text—
Jesus’ words in red—
covering every inch of skin, eyelids,
lips, nose, between fingers and toes,
while invisible capillaries
under the skin carry the images
molecule by molecule
into the living catacombs of bone.



For D.

Groans going all the way up a young tree
Half-cracked and caught in the crook of another

Cease. All around the hill-ringed, heavened pond
Leaves shush themselves like an audience.

An atomic pause, as of some huge attention
Bearing down. May I hold your hand?

A clutch of mayflies banqueting on oblivion
Writhes above the water like visible light.





Visiting hours

A friend of theirs had been festering
like an old sandwich, rotting
a little before disposal. They had to come,
but it got to where they held their breath
before they stepped inside the room.
The wife remembered how anything
with mayonnaise had to be refrigerated.

Even a sack lunch in an office was suspect
if stored under the desk for a morning:
egg salad was the worst.
The husband recalled a tiny door
in the stone wall of an English church,
stage right from the modest altar—a place
for lepers to take communion. Only part

of a soul could pass, and precious
little of the smell. The wife and husband
talked with their old friend like this, backing
off from his suppurations, unwilling to think,
This is our body, unwilling to think,
Dust to dust, slipping their elements of decay
into the outer cold and darkness.