Poetry

Poetry

For D.

Groans going all the way up a young tree
Half-cracked and caught in the crook of another

Cease. All around the hill-ringed, heavened pond
Leaves shush themselves like an audience.

An atomic pause, as of some huge attention
Bearing down. May I hold your hand?

A clutch of mayflies banqueting on oblivion
Writhes above the water like visible light.





Tattooists

Are these Christian tattooists
in the paper any stranger—Simon Stylites spent
a life standing on a stone pillar, sixty feet up—
did not come down for cramps or winter rain.

Could I survive the Sacred Heart with “Hail, Mary,
Full of Grace” across my arm, or
the crucifixion in three colors
against my sternum between my breasts.
Needles to skin over
soft tissue is less painful,
but flesh is grass and sags—
art lasts best close to bone.

No stranger than hair shirts,
hundreds of needles for hours, for days, even years,
to get the complete St. Michael on my shoulder to the writhing,
twisting dragon down my leg.
Or my whole life to get the Last Supper
with Stations of the Cross, and the proper text—
Jesus’ words in red—
covering every inch of skin, eyelids,
lips, nose, between fingers and toes,
while invisible capillaries
under the skin carry the images
molecule by molecule
into the living catacombs of bone.



When my daughter asks me why

Maggie, her grandparents’ dog,
can’t come with us to the zoo,
we say she’s not feeling well
and try to leave it at that,
bring up tigers and polar bears,
offer Twizzlers and juice,
but all she wants is the dog,
asks if we gave her medicine,
when will she come back
so we can fix her with
a screwdriver, today’s new word,
so many new sounds,
so much new these days
we can’t keep track
of all the people and places
she knows, and the names
of things, reminding us
we cannot save her
from the word, or save
ourselves from having to
explain what dead means,
as if we’ve waded through
all we were taught
and emerged on one side
or the other, unable
to dismiss or believe
there’s one true voice
that could reveal a pattern
we’ve never picked up on
in the sunlight and trees,
some force behind why
that could lead us beyond
our parents’ loving euphemisms,
beyond we simply don’t know.

Visiting hours

A friend of theirs had been festering
like an old sandwich, rotting
a little before disposal. They had to come,
but it got to where they held their breath
before they stepped inside the room.
The wife remembered how anything
with mayonnaise had to be refrigerated.

Even a sack lunch in an office was suspect
if stored under the desk for a morning:
egg salad was the worst.
The husband recalled a tiny door
in the stone wall of an English church,
stage right from the modest altar—a place
for lepers to take communion. Only part

of a soul could pass, and precious
little of the smell. The wife and husband
talked with their old friend like this, backing
off from his suppurations, unwilling to think,
This is our body, unwilling to think,
Dust to dust, slipping their elements of decay
into the outer cold and darkness.



Small prayer in a hard wind

As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
Only someone lost could find,

Which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams,
Its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,

Seems both ghost of the life that happened there
And living spirit of this wasted place,

Wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
That is open enough to receive it,

Shatter me God into my thousand sounds . . .