Poetry

Poetry

Heeling

It’s the coat I notice first, several sizes
too big, and blue as the sea, an ocean
to drown in, and clearly not hers. It was,
I guessed, his, just two months dead, and
she, his wife for scarcely a year, stays
afloat, barely, marooned in his clothes, in
anything that keeps him close, the scent
and touch of cloth to skin. But it’s the shoes
that pierce my heart—gunboats, we called
them when I was a child—and they do look
like boats, his New Balance sneakers that
carry her, heeling, over sharp breaking waves.

Barnet Knoll Brook

      —in a time of war

Here’s what’s to be read, or part of it,
in mud by the brook after last night’s storm—
storm that scrawled itself on sky
in color and light, here then gone.

It was matchless. Thus I won’t even try
to speak of such flash. No, back to the mud,
to the scrimshaw of busiest rodents—voles,
mice—and the paired stabs of weasel,

and the lissome trail of a gaunt angleworm,
who lies there still, just under the brush,
carnal pink or its tail showing out.
Small gnats make a veil on my face.

I choose not even to wave them away.
But for my mild heavings of chest
after the climb to this upland water,
the still of the place is absolute,

and the fullness too: the water striders
in the pool above the fortuitous dam
of sticks and debris are water striders
up and down: they stand on themselves

on the surface reflection, foot to foot.
How many grains of sand in the world?
So one of my daughters wanted to know
in her infancy. “A gadzillion,” I’d say.

“I love you more than that,” she’d answer.
What have I ever done to earn blessing?
I choose to believe in grace, believe
the splendors of the universe

lie not in my eye but rather subsume me,
small drab me, one part of so many.
Beauty not in my eye but including my eye,
which tonight may see the cavalcade

of star and planet or cloud again, gravid.
When I consider all this, What is man,
that thou art mindful of him? and the son
of man, that thou visitest him? It seems right

to have knelt, although one kneels by habit
by this brook. The pinespills sunk to its streamstones
would take my lifetime to tally up,
and more would keep coming, please God, keep coming.























Brother Mars

Hubble pockets light years, eons, sees eye
   to eye with dust, a small drop of water.
   NASA’s robot stalks tiptoe, a cat’s paw
on the prowl to report if there is life,
beeps back a monument of stone and ice,
   an unresponsive mountain in orbit.
   Delicate antennae translate the laws
of physics into a mourner’s sigh.

But the frozen droplet, like the sea
   to a drowning man, whirls its rueful hoard
of thanks deferred, of love unvoiced, the pleas
of miracles before the eyes, the mystery
   of the heart, the mind’s Post-it notes: Praise the Lord,
Carpe Diem and Memento Mori.

Estancada*

The air in my barrio
bulges with ash, the remains
of dead poets, dried-out painters,
and sick-sounding musicians. Skeletons
of talento that never found breath.

I sit, estancada, in this hole,
condemnation filling me.
My dying ideas crinkle and shuffle
but no one, not even the flea
on a cat’s hairy back, wants them.

Dreams peak in my mind as dusty dirges,
polvo floating down Figueroa to settle,
abandoned. In a one-room apartment
the homeless grow and light fires for the warmth
of words I will never write and they will never hear.




*estancada—stuck, bogged down, stagnating







All Saints communion

—All Saints Episcopal Church,
Virginia Beach, April 1996
Having accepted from one palsied priest the cool,
the lucent wafer, having dipped it duly in the cup,
I pressed that sweet enormity fast against my tongue,
where on its sudden dissolution, I received a taste
of whose I was. I rose again and found my place.

As I knelt and tried to pray, I heard a little differently
the words the priest intoned as he continued offering
what passed for bread among high Protestants. His words:
the body of Christ, repeated as he set that emblem
into each pair of outstretched hands. My eyes were shut,

so each communicant returning down the aisle became
something of a shadow illustration of the words. In that
fraught moment, they became as well absorbed into the vast
array of witnesses, whose cloud invisibly attended
our sacramental blurring of the edge that keeps us separate.