Poetry

Poetry

The Volcano Series

            And the graves were opened; and many bodies . . .
            which slept arose, And came out of the graves after
            his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and
            appeared unto many. Matthew 27:52-53

                        When asked, “Just what is night anyway?”
            Coyote closed his eyes,
            Placed his burden basket over his head
            And began making the sounds of hoot owl.
                        “The Burden Basket,” Elderberry Flute
                                    Song, Peter Blue Cloud

What do you think of the little rumblings, the discontents, the
warpings of fault lines and fissures? What seems to be said takes
some thinking. He led captivity captive.¹ Now that he
ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower
part of the earth.² What could it have been to descend into the
earth: the magma and lava the dark heat nearly sweat lodged there?
Was it where he wandered with his ash bucket, his firepans and
shovel after Calvary, after the graves were opened? What did the
dead do the three days he was in hell preaching on last chance to
the unchanced? Did they look at one another and didn’t quite
know what to do? Maybe some saw their families on the street and
weren’t recognized. How had they changed that they didn’t know
them? It would have been too much anyway for the families to
know their dead were only waiting on Jesus and had three days to
kill and would have to leave again for a second parting while the
families were still grieving from the first. Still others hid out,
pulling their tunics and cloaks and head cloths about them, holding
their little angers, the mistreatments, the rapes, the robberies, and
waited on the edge of town for him to return from hell and take
them in the air.

¹Psalm 68:18
²Ephesians 4:9





Variety of hells

Hell: the inescapable presence of God
endured in the permanent absence of him.

A hell where your name is forgotten.
Worse, the hell that remembers you.
Every rotten scheme your hands laid plan to.

Then, a hell for omissive sins.
All what you meant to do though couldn’t.
How you intended to love, but didn’t.

A hell for revenge songs and ridicule.
A hell where despair is winnowed by fire.
A hell that burns away desire.

Hell of all hells: I harrow for your ghost.
But we abide eternities apart.
That’s the hell of the heart.







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.





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.





























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.