Poetry

Poetry

Please grant mercy, Ella Webb!

Sealed within a windowed tube
that struck me as a giant
chrome-and-ivory jumping bean,

the girl my age smiled
thin as airplane model tissue
through me to her end.

ELLA WEBB! THE GIRL IN AN
IRON LUNG! PLEASE HELP ELLA
WITH YOUR GENEROUS DONATION!

prayed the sign tacked on her tiny tent.

Though scared to drift too near
on the noisy festive sprawling floor
of the ancient armory, I spied dark hair surround her

aging newsprint-yellow cheeks,
feeling guilt with every easy stride
50 years ago this week.

Maybe we gave a quarter.











Like rocks

A Desert Father said
that we should be like rocks
in the face of suffering.

I sit on ancient weather-beaten boulders
and hear the wind scraping their surface.
Some have deep crevices, one a crater with a rippling pool.

My face fragments and distorts in its reflection.
Someone has placed small stones neatly around its perimeter,
a gesture of gratitude for an implicit understanding.

Baboons bark in the distance.
I look for them, but I do not see them.
No one ever does in this valley.

I lie back and soak my hand in the chilling water
while rubbing my other hand gently
over the moss-stained roughness of these old silent proprietors.







Praise is a language

The young preacher said so and then hurried on and the girls
who had led the praise songs nodded and whispered in the front pew
but wait, I muttered in my head, if praise is a language then what

can we use it to say? How widely is it spoken, and should we maybe
listen instead of talking so much? I have seen praise glowing
in the cornstalks glazed with mud and snow. I have heard

the fine twigs of the sickly high tree outside my fourth-floor
window sifting the buttery wind. I have taken the stairs
two at a time and groped for my key and dreamed that

the language of praise might launch itself across the wide skies,
cross vacuums and voids like radio or photons, carry some
wild packet of data and yearning that would cause the High One

suddenly to relent, to pass out the sports cars and the answer keys,
to sit down alone and together with us all and tenderly explain
the languages of bullies, traffic, RPGs, anthrax, patriarchy

and cholesterol, propound in words glowing and clear the need
for better and more detailed articulations of the High One’s
splendor, grandeur, majesty and might, for the pretty good guitar

strummed nearly in time, for the blond girl who sweetly sang
Father, Father as the rest of us tried to follow the tune.











If God is your answer

If God is your answer to every question,
   eternal and absolute
   once-and-for-all kind of answer,
   without a doubt,
   no wondering, dithering or hypothesizing,
   no clever juggling,
   struggling, pondering or agonizing
   no raised eyebrow or pursed lips,
   no tilted head with faraway gaze—
   just straight out, eyes glazed,
   one syllable,
   constant and unequivocal,
   you smiling, smiling, always smiling
   sweetly to every question:
   God;
Then,
   all questions vanish,
   all questions perish,
   and you stand like a post
   from one of your fences,
   not even enough of you
   for the upright
   of a cross
   like one Jesus chose at the end,
   facing death, and desperately
   asking the ultimate question:
   God, where are you?
   and hearing nothing,
   resigned to silence,
   said, Nevertheless, I AM
   and died the Lamb
   still with his question.
Now there’s an answer,
   God.

Pew 13 seat 7

The girl in the pew next to me
is doing her math
between prayers. I peek
at the certainties on her page yearning
for a time I knew clearly
that the sum of e to the minus x
from nothing to the infinite was
always and everlasting one
and I could prove that everything that rises
   must converge.

Now the slow hardening of my brain's
arteries has rubbed those crisp
clear certainties until they're
ragged with doubt and experience.
Was the sine the one
next to me over over the big one?
Or the opposite?
Was the answer a precise
one or pi,
that vague pipe dream that
we've chased to 51 billion places
and still don't know exactly?

I chant my beliefs and wonder
what proofs I am
seeking here. Add up the blessings
of the world and subtract
the sins and you've got
what? Add up my own
petty closed set of real
and imaginary without limit.
Can it ever exceed zero?

The mass is over and the little
girl kneels in the aisle
crosses herself,
the sign of our shared belief
in a world beyond or
the mathematician's plus sign,
the sign that says with a certainty:
something more.