Poetry

Poetry

Lessons in prayer, from a dog

He assumes his still posture
two feet from the table.
He is not grabby,
his tongue is not hanging out,
he is quiet.

He wants to leap,
he wants to snap up
meat and blood.
You can tell.
But what he does is sit
as the gods
his masters and mistresses
fork steak and potatoes
into their mouths.

He is expectant
but not presumptuous.
He can wait.
He can live with disappointment.
He can abide frustration
and suffer suspense.

He watches
for signals,
he listens for calls
of his name from above.

At hints that
he may be gifted
with a morsel,
he intensifies his
already rapt concentration,
he looks his god
in the eye,
but humbly,
sure of his innocence
in his need,
if his need only.

On the (often rare) occasions
when gifts are laid on his tongue,
he takes them whole,
then instantly resumes
the posture of attention,
beseeching, listening, alert,
the posture of hard-won faith
that will take no for an answer,
yet ever and again hopefully
return to the questioning.









John the Baptist at a country tent meeting, Jesus comes

Can you tell me what to want now? I can’t
go on, no turning back. We’d sing, “Jesus
on the main line, tell him what you want. Just
call him up, tell him what you want, what you want.”
But these six months, they came to me, I tell you—
tire tracks and footsteps flattened the grass ’round
the green tent—my words made such sound
toward the crowd—they bent, repented. But I knew
I was nothing, I just stalled in the river’s flow.
I waited for you, tensed as a dog’s hind leg
crouching before bread crusts and melon rinds.
Miz Black yowls “Call him up, call him up now!”
But you’re here, and I’m blown, a cattail’s sag,
I am birds dispersed—pepper in the wind.

Stone work

I know the one I want when I find it.
Turning them over, like tortoises,
rubbing their ridged underbellies, their curves,
their pocked histories of love and grief,

I palm the one that speaks my other name,
the one whom I become this still moment,
lead-light, soft as chalk, right as spring
after weeks of needling sleet, the dumb tomb.

I run my tongue along its edges, taste
the sharp consonants, the gush of vowel,
the salt that grits the honest surface,
telling its years in the still pool of tears.

A stone in a heart made of sorrow,
a node in a kidney (gorgeous agony),
a missile thrown to break the martyr’s skull,
a stranger at the gates of the body’s love.

I press it down hard in the good dirt
next to the one I loved best yesterday,
assembling the poem, stone by sudden stone,
faithful as flesh to its house of bone.







Flames like people

Thank you, Morgan, preschool prodigy of likenesses.
I hadn’t considered my propane heater
so closely, its hot imagery, how, as you declared that winter evening
in my kitchen, munching a chip two-handed
like a squirrel, the heater’s line of flames looks like people.
And as your younger sister Ella whirled
in pink britches around the kitchen singing flames like people,
people dancing, and as you grinned
at your own brilliance and the brilliant line of half-blue half-orange folk
you culled up with spark of thought
and vapor of breath, I saw them too, figures swinging hips
with whippy fervor to the beat of ignition.

Born seeking likenesses, each of us. We secure a simile,
like the wild Ella scooped and wrapped
in her father’s arms, let it burn to purer metaphor, let it cool
as we celebrate, as we praise our precocity.
Really, we praise the world, we delight in its many
wrought likenesses.

Jewel in the heart

It came to me as I waited at the desk, thinking how to turn
another scattered group toward the day’s work: I want a bell.
Not the electric commands that drilled through our younger days,

not some jingly tinkle. No, something small but clear—a signal,
a reminder, a request. After Christmas we went looking
and my son found a pair of heavy, small brass disks joined

by a leather thong at the import place in town. They had eight
raised symbols in a ring, some scratchy lettering inside.
When he struck them the pure tone hung for seven seconds

in the air, shimmering and clean as the sun. Of course I bought them.
Each day now I put them on the desk, try to keep them quiet.
They want nothing but to ring. They desire not to join but to meet.

When it’s time I hold the thong close to each disk and strike them
at right angles to each other, as I learned from a man who told me
that their true name is tingsha, that in Tibet the monks strike them

when minds start to ramble. Inside, he told me, were the great
and ancient words, Om mani padme hum. We might say: See the jewel
in the heart of the lotus. He rubbed the symbols on the top: here

is the conch shell, he said, here the prayer wheel, the umbrella,
the flower. The students smile each time I strike the chimes,
hold them as the sound wavers, fades. It lasts such a long time.

Such a short time. And then we begin, teasing new sounds
from the old tongue as we can, taking the next steps across
the rocky plain, following the smoky thread on the horizon.

We fold out the map and it tells us where we might be.
We study the compass and it offers some names. We open
the timepiece and it says, Be quiet. Bring the chimes together.