Poetry

Poetry

The reconfiguration of grand dreams

                                    —near Biertan, Romania

Confusing, how the landscape stumbles—
there is sky beyond this sky, a backyard
of chickens, a broken dog. Ambition,
like green fields, slows upon autumns
and the few ancient trucks. Work earth,
plow and hoe, bent over the soil again.
Years of this sameness. Years of the white sun.

To marry a girl was the one thing. The other,
talk—long into nights out past the river.
Sometimes three of us found ourselves there.
We shared what we had, even failures
we’d carried in our coats. In that certain dark,
nothing but compassionate days, when our tilling
turned the ground to wider orbits, to order.

A village closes upon itself. The road’s rise
toward Copsa Mare is the firm hand urging.
Doorways are boundaries children learn
to respect. Someone, born to it, swells within
his father’s isolation, painting his barn
a fierce yellow. Hay in the lofts. I know
how surely we fall to ourselves in this world.





Black fire on white fire

There are tracings in the snow-filled field,
Tracks I see but cannot read; except the deer’s
Small heart-shaped prints, the rest remains
A mystery. And so, I think of Hebrew script,
The jagged flame that writes of God, but
Is not God, the scholars say. God dwells in
White fire, not in black. In sky glimpsed
Through dark winter trees, in breath-filled
Silence when we pray.

Waiting

          As for me, I can explain nothing,
          but stammer with the fire that burns
          inside me, and the life that has been
          bestowed on me.
                                         Lorca

It is no mistake that what bears us up has the power
to draw us under—and the melody of either sphere
can deflower the heart with pitiless persuasion.
We are always stringed things waiting to vibrate.

Do angels lick their lips in the full-heat of noonday
or shudder as the clouds pass over the sun? Yes,
is the only word they know when the hems
of their robes are singed and their feet become ash.

Still they ascend and descend, heavily winged
and hovering in sublime indifference.
Which is why

Yes, is the word I most like to hear you speak.
When you say it, I know I will wait
for your next call. . . .

I am standing now and lifting my arms to the sun,
arching my back and tilting toward the shadows.









Crutch

Politics, our children,
     Some ball team—ordinary
Palaver among old friends
     At a B-plus restaurant,
Till between the soups and the blood-

     Red meats I mentioned a nun.
She wanders the crack dens of bitter-
     End Brooklyn, forging through places
Grown hot as embers with sin.
     I needed to call it so,

Though I had no axe to grind.
     She seeks “the least of these,”
For which I voiced only wonder.
     And yet when one woman countered,
“Your faith’s no more than a crutch,”

     A devil put cruelest things
In my head. I didn’t speak them,
     Mindful of words of James:
How our tongues are harder to govern
     Than bloodhorse or masted ship.

How they need to be governed no matter.
     Though faith didn’t need my defense,
Believe me, that moment of choice,
     My silence, didn’t come easy
To one who for years was addicted

     To thought he called free, unsponsored,
Till all that freedom produced
     A pair of paper slippers,
Blue robe, steel gurney with straps.
     In a bright-white lockdown ward,

Librium’d, flat on his face,
     He groped for the crutch of grace,
With which he has hobbled his way
     From the Pit, as the Psalmist calls it,
Up to a wider place.

     That seemed a choice as well:
He chose to believe in salvation.
     As still I hope to choose,
Though the crack house carries on,
     The pit bull snarls at his station,

Urine steams in the hallways,
     Stars on high are a puzzle,
And my nun can’t account for a thing.
     There’s none of us who can,
Wrapped in our other addictions.

     Yet there’s no accounting either
For what I felt this Easter:
     I heard from the gospel of John
About Mary Magdalene.
     Woman, why are you weeping?

So the Christ is said to have asked her
     Before he named her: Mary.
To which she answered: Rabboni!
     I recalled a state beyond crying,
All my tears sunk into the bedclothes.

     A voice announced, It’s over.
Then I felt the rush of undying.
     In Hebrew, rabboni means teacher.
You can look it up in a book.
     Does my friend believe these stories?

She doesn’t. Nor I, exactly.
     Not a word. Not a literal word.
I believe them inexactly,
     In a way that beggars our speech.
Something taught me something.

     It’s no use to speak of it glibly,     There’s no accounting for grace.
Why then did it prove such a battle
     For me to say nothing that evening?

The tongue as I say was hot
     As a coal, was keen as a sword?
I might loose it. Caustic. Unruly.
     How it hates to speak of faith,
And can only speak of faith.

Which is after all merely a word.





























The state lakes at Alexandria

I have never stopped thinking of myself as a beginner.
                                                                     Auguste Rodin

Now that I’m retired and done being chosen
Or rejected, respect mine to give again,
I want to grow large, as large as the twelve
Year old who dived off a wooden platform under
Weeping willows and swam the longest of
Man-made lakes to impress Rachel Kerwood,
Not sure he could make it an acceptable risk,
So that when he climbed out on the other side
Green pond scum clinging emeralds to a milk
White back, he sat beside her in the sweet grass
Eating black walnuts cracked open with a rock,
Talking of things he could only speak of
Because he’d swum through the silken stillness
In the middle of the deepest lake, where
Pure artesian springs turned the water cold,
And sullen bullheads grew twice normal size.