Poetry

Poetry

Perspective

In medieval paintings, the cobbler stood just inches high
        beside the saints, who rose like water towers,
until Brunelleschi thought up single point perspective,

and proved it, lines receding to a speck on the horizon.
        Once people saw it, they couldn’t forget:
the statues and churches kneeling to just one lover.

How thrilling! To stand at the commanding point.
         Each of us at the center! It’s the great
myth of the personal. Dutiful art teachers swung

the myth in buckets to the next teachers
        until generations later, it bears
the heft of Truth. That is, it did, until the night

I drove the death car, when the sky slit open
        to admit two headlights, double moons
drilling larger and larger holes through darkness

as they bore their terrible gift, two thousand pounds
         of metal toward me, and suddenly I saw the flaw
in Brunelleschi’s myth of the personal. Which of us

can bear to hold the whole world on his lap?
         I swerved then, or something swerved me,
spinning the steel off center so the car did not kill me.

Instead, I floated briefly, picking the lock of the improbable,
        feeling like a patron suspended
in a medieval painting—that one wearing

his everyday red hat and blue cloak,
        keeping his face businesslike,
trying not to say AhHa as he strides up the golden sky.



















The Sistine Chapel

On the scaffold twenty meters up
tracing her head in the damp plaster,
Michelangelo knows it’s going to take
more than a breath to make Adam drop
his can’t-be-bothered pose, too bored
to stand even at God’s charged arrival,
held aloft by a crew of hard-working cherubs
who struggle to maintain lift long enough
for contact to occur: a critical maneuver
of the right hand complicated by the added
weight of Eve on whom His left arm rests.
Drops of paint freckle his face as he wonders
how many priests will take offense
but concludes that only skin to skin will do.
Without it, Adam’s forever grounded.
God’s touch is first. Hers is next.



Learning by heart

The service will be over in ten minutes, but we’re stuck
saying the creed. It’s hot. Our voices
run together, muddled, a swampy stream.
We stick at the sibilants, slogging through, plodding on.

No clarity, except for when we all pause
for the same breath, suck up all the air
in the room, and use it to shape these worn-out words
so many have already spent breath saying.
                                       I believe—

—who was conceived by the Virgin married, I say, a slip
I hope no one heard, but then a man behind me
falters, mumbles something about light (that isn’t in this one)

and I recall saying the Nicene Creed standing
beside one of my college professors
who quietly called the Holy Spirit “She”—

—She has spoken to us through the prophets, I tried saying
once, but then all day, I couldn’t stop thinking about
Her, deep in those quiet conversations, handing over words

to be handed down, the ones we should have
learned by heart by now. How disappointed she must be
we still slip after all this time?

We’re walking along the rickety edge of Babel

trying to learn by heart, without reading,
trying to walk by faith, still slipping.

















Parable

Maker of galaxies, at latest count
Billions! And who can say that our Big Bang
Was not preceded, from your primal fount
By other billions, while the angels sang?
Then shall we take the word of a great Jew,
That one child is more precious in your sight
Than all the rocks in all the worlds you view,
And loyal anima is your delight?
Maker of galaxies, how then weigh out
A small Iraqi eye, terror-suffused,
Against the marvels you have brought about,
Why are your little children so abused?
“Not bread, not miracles, not use of power,”
So your Son said. We must await your hour.



Labors of love

Spring did not officially arrive
until two this afternoon,
or so the weatherspinner had informed us,
so that when, at morning prayer,
my still wintered words were interrupted
by a pair of honking calls,
I laughed aloud
to think that my Canadian neighbors
of several springtimes had beaten nature’s clock
by seven hours and more to seek
their customary lot along the creek
for hatching this year’s brood.

Minutes later—the creed
and half a prayer, no less—
and their first raucous pass to reconnoitre
was followed by the splashdown run,
low now across our deck
and through the clustered trees
onto that quiet pool stretching above the rapids
where, over the next few days, they will be joined,
most likely, by a familiar pair of mallard ducks
who share their taste in shoreline real estate.
Meanwhile a red-tailed hawk
orbits high aloft
in leisurely anticipation.