Poetry

Poetry

How it comes this time

Did God create the microbes, too?
On which day did God say,
“Let there be Brie”?

Are these, then, messengers of the Holy One—
Clostridium Gabriel Difficile and
Staphylococcus Michael Aureus?
The seraphim Influenza and Pneumonia?

No drunk driver will take her away.
No warriors wage this assault.
No mugger, no terrorist, no drive-by shooter.
No one to blame. No one.

Unlike the monotonic booping of her monitor
And tweeting IVAC pump,
Her ventilator pipes an almost merry tune
From time to time,
Like close encounters of some kind,
While tiny creatures who, naturally,
Dance in colonies on heads of pins,
Swing, Lo, to carry her home





Spring 1964

In June the World’s Fair with bright red strawberries
and cream over seared Belgian waffles. It grows hot.
Trapped in the crowd, a tangled skein of nerves,
lost and hungry for quiet, for tenderness, I ride
with my aunt on a long conveyor belt to see the Pietà.
So gentle the grieving, tranquil mother with her downcast
eyes, the stone folds still around her, the cold flesh
of her perfect son. She does not attempt to cry.
My aunt, primed by The Agony and the Ecstasy, leans
to recognize “Buonarroti” on the chiseled band, tasting
the contours of each round unaccustomed syllable.
She whispers the name. She will not last two years.
Silent, thrilled and careful as dancers, when we step off
on solid ground we are joined by our secret, sworn
never to tell what we have no words to say. This is how
it will be in the winter we take our leave: bitter flakes
in a sharp ribbon of wind beyond tears or anger,
the long frozen loop home from the hospital waiting
for me, as we both know. Suddenly shy and tongue-tied
as a girl, she will reach out from her bed to touch me,
recalling too the marble brow, faintly wrinkled,
the white hand, open, as if it were asking a question.



Blessed are the poor in spirit

I am not made to pray. I close my eyes
and float among the spots behind my lids.
I chew the name God, God, like habitual
gum, think about dusting the shelves, then sleep.

It is hard to speak to the capital LORD
who deals in mountains and seas, not in a woman
rewashing her mildewed laundry while scolding
her toddler through gritted teeth. I should

escape to the closet and kneel to the holy
singularity who blasted my cells from a star.
I should imagine the blood soaking
into the cross’s grain, plead forgiveness

for splintering my child’s soul. But the words
never find their way out of the dark.
Choirs and candles shine in his bones
while I doze at the door of his body.





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.







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.