Poetry

Poetry

Grace

He awakens on February first, stunned again by that odd
wonder: how quickly old has come. Of course if his will were done
he’d have risen youthful, but age is here, he’ll own it. He thanks God

for its coming without companion pain, without reliance on medicine.
As he has since he was younger, he puts on snowshoes and clambers
      over
drifts and up a daunting bluff. As much by determination

as muscle he powers on through the powder. The view from here—a
      blessing:
eastward the white White Mountains all seem to be staring placidly
      down on
ice-dams hunched in the river. He kicks his feet out of leather bindings

to climb a tree. West, a neighbor’s strange herd of alpacas mills,
all wool, though mere months back—short-shorn, with feeble reeds for
      necks—
they were fragile creatures, naked, susceptible, silly, same as us all.

He forces air out through his teeth—birdwatcher trick—and imagines a
      lisping
cloud, his sounds small jets of steam. Let kinglets come, he dreams.
Did an eagle shriek? Too far to tell. But golden-crowned kinglets are
      flying

from his south to land all around, on his limb and all the way up to the
      crown,
then are gone so quickly he all but missed the marvel: the kinglets
      come.









One time

1. Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

Then I looked down into the lovely cut
of a missing river, something under dusk’s
upflooding shadows claiming for itself a clarity
of which my eyes were not yet capable:
fissures could be footpaths, ancient homes
random erosions; pictographs depicting fealties
of who knows what hearts, to who knows what gods.
To believe is to believe you have been torn
from the abyss, yet stand waveringly on its rim.
I come back to the world. I come back
to the world and would speak of it plainly,
with only so much artifice as words
themselves require, only so much distance
as my own eyes impose. I believe
in the slickrock whorls of the real
canyon, the yucca’s stricken clench,
and, on the other side, the dozen buzzards swirled
and buoyed above some terrible intangible fire
that must scald the very heart
of matter to cast up such miraculous ash.



2. 2047 Grace Street

But the world is more often refuge
than evidence, comfort and covert
for the flinching will, rather than the sharp
particulate instants through which God’s being burns
into ours. I say God and mean more
than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
I say world and mean less
than the abstract oblivion of cells
out of which every intact thing emerges,
into which every intact thing finally goes.
I do not know how to come closer to God
but by standing where a world is ending
for one man. It is still dark,
and for an hour I have listened
to the breathing of the woman I love beyond
my ability to love. Praise to the pain
scalding us toward each other, the grief
beyond which, please God, she will live
and thrive. And praise to the light that is not
yet, the dawn in which one bird believes,
crying not as if there had been no night
but as if there were no night in which it had not been.







And afterward, repenting

Wasn’t it Augustine who said, evil is matter
out of place? He kisses his love
as he pivots from the brothel gate,
his ardent heart already gritty
with guilt. I imagine the big A
trying to shake sin from himself
as I haul our red rug out and shake it.
Dear God, what we track in, how sin sifts
like fine silt into our deepest grooves!
And once inside, the dirt forgets
that it’s our backyard. We keep tracking
the outside in, sweeping it out again.

Or that’s what I get from The Confessions.
How love, like soil, is out of place for, maybe,
half its orbit. How sinning and repentance follow
one another like all the circles on this fickle
earth, rain taken up by clouds, then falling
on us again. Maples spinning whiffs
that grow to seedlings. Children begetting
children. And every insult you bestow
whirring like graying underwear
in some dryer of regret.

Way back in Christianity’s kindergarten,
Augustine had it figured out. He guessed
our remorse and longing as he closed
the brothel door, seeing a woman
gaze at the sooty outline on her white sheet
of a tall blacksmith the morning after.




Places I have rested

God saw everything that he made, and indeed, it was very good. . . .
And God rested on the seventh day. Genesis 1:31

I can rest any place, dear friend,
although I have my preferences, lairs

much visited. I rest in Seamus Heaney,
bog lover, prodigal who remembers home,

chaste as the pope in a pub, language
lush crowned king. In that miser

Emily Dickinson, who counts the night’s
small coins to see no word is overspent,

each berry pinched until it bleeds.
In Robert Hass soliloquizing on

swans, cats and blackberries,
caressing vowels for the long embrace.

In Die Meistersinger—six hours
of Germanic glory—a lot of culture

in sausage, beer, bony knees,
lederhosen and busty maids.

In Joe Turner, who invented light,
splashed it across the channel ships.

—I never knew the sun could breathe.
But I rest best in wild canaries

outside my monastery window, tiny
fallen suns, frantic out of orbit, flashing

a wilder yellow in search of their gods.























Incarnation

Suppose I scooped the whole sky in my hand,
I couldn’t hold it. Yet hearing a goldfinch,
I feel, well, yes, that tiny song might clench
the whole primordial rumpus of the wind.

I wonder if she felt the fearful flame
fly into her womb? What did she hear?
Or maybe when God enters time,
he’s quiet. Is the child in the manger
meek so He, who fills all place, won’t scare
us?
              After my mother’s death, I stood in darkness,
bereft and tiny on an ocean pier,
a spent coin. Night opened its purse
and flung me up, expanding toward the stars.

From what I know, I reason in reverse.