Poetry

Poetry

Standing still in insect season

When it touches you, you will keep still,
in spite of black flies hovering—
fiercely itching, lumpish red spots to come—
feeling the day lighten, half-laughing
at yourself, you look so silly

with a butterfly on your arm.
Flawless wings open—orange, deep-brown—
and close to make one dead leaf,
on each side a tiny silver sickle,
moonsliver, which gives it the name,

Comma. Knobbed antennas in front
like turned-around exclamation marks.
Meaning, in the Beginning, when butterflies
were made, for the first time the Word
needed a speck of punctuation.











The recovery of buried poems

Root is what I am, rootpoet
here at home among the worms,
finding here the poem’s terms.”
—Miklos Radnoti, August 8, 1944
If, as it seems, art is nothing, nothing at all—
some sleep only that lulls us toward trees,
what to make of these poems, Miklos,
where you ordered a life into lines?
That brutal stumble through the mountains
might have said enough. Or those curses sneered
by villagers, one pausing near the water well
to dust and dust his sleeves. Finally, you with the rest,
worn through, too settled for another step,
were forced to dig and dig your graves, then

kneel at last on the uncalmed earth there.
What is that light against the fields? Why,
after all that had been done? They sought
to sever tongues from thoughts—those soldiers,
certain in their silence, who carved from hurt
this tender fruit words could have grown
and given seed. Miklos, these hidden poems,
found folded in your pocket. . . . Prove, history,
how the world speaks deeper than decay:
this murmur pulled from underground,
with its challenge of a purer sound and song.

After the biopsy

“Each time that we have some pain to go through, we can say to ourselves quite truly that it is the universe, the order and beauty of the world, and the obedience of creation to God that are entering our body. After that, how can we fail to bless with tenderest gratitude the Love that sends us this gift?”
                                —Simone Weil

The pathology report an icon; the tissue
staining the slide, God’s kaleidoscope.
And those cells, obeying their DNA,
cosmic dust as they whirl and split.
Why not praise cancer, relentless, blind,
that seeks and finds the lymph and blood?
Because I am unthankful, rude.
Because if I linger over this gift,
I will change, I will vanish from the earth.
In Russia, an icon of Mary has wept
for twenty years. Mary, do you see
my nuclei mutating, like words
in “whisper down the lane”? This same God
took your son away. Help me disobey.





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.



I'll always remember

I’ll always remember
the sweltering night in Missouri,
the pulsing din of the katydids,
the prairie grass stretching away
on the other side of the trees.
In the dark woods across the pond,
a lost calf bleats its anguish—
six times, then eight, then six again.
I sit at the camp table listening,
as so many nights before. In the tent,
sleeping, the boy, now thirteen,
the woman, after twenty-seven years.
Moths and greenbugs attack the lantern,
flapping crazily. Before I finish tonight
they will land in the halo
of the hot gas light, diligently
search out the lantern’s air vents
and incinerate themselves.
In the morning I will brush away
the fine white ash. This is not
a fitting metaphor
for any human aspiration.
The light we are seeking
is not the kind that destroys
those who seek it. True,
the bright burning gas
tempts us sometimes. I know, I know.
There are nights when we feel
that bad. I turn the valve of the lantern
to off and wait for my vision
to adjust to the darkness.
The almost inaudible
breathing from the tent
comforts me. I think of us
sitting on the shore
as the last sunlight seeped
from the sky, watching the boy
cast his fishing line
again and again
out into the pond, catching nothing
except happiness. The light
we are seeking catches all the world
in the shooting arc
of the outthrown line, never
to be lost, not bounded
by night, dangerous
only to death.