Arts+Culture

Arts+Culture

We Are the Eighth Day, © Melanie Weidner

Poetry

Prayer for Sam Johnson as he writes the dictionary

How can children read, with words
wobbling any way they feel like?
Spelling shows up as speling,
and spelin spills to spleen. Stolen
bases slide to stollen basis. There’s
no Too Far, no leash to keep
the feral hound from escape,
no property line between ideas,
no surveyor to fasten edges.

And if Johnson doesn’t finish soon,
words might wander further into
wildness, soar like index cards
in a hurricane, and scatter
like so much litter. Or worse—
careen like bullets into meanings,
blowing every deal to pieces.

If he finishes, you could be stuck
in a poem entirely on spelling,
longing for rescue from the strait-
jacket they tied us into
so we can read and write this.
How fragile the guide rope of logic
seems between us! How tenuous
sweet mutual understanding!

Sam Johnson, in your stained shirt,
big as Fleet Street, rehearsing
for the thousandth time your smudgy
slips of paper, you’ve never finished
anything on time, you rarely
finish. This is a prayer for you.
But shall I bless or curse?





Poetry

Ash Wednesday

Now forty winters have besieged this brow
that bears the mark of ashes once again,
its shallow furrows yielding to time’s plow
as, on command, I turn and turn again.
With every year the mark goes deeper still
and stays there longer than the year before,
reminding me, despite my flesh’s will,
there comes a spring when I’ll be marked no more.

Yet still I bow and part my graying hair
to make way for the dust that makes us all,
the mortal touch, the cross traced in the air,
the voice that tells me to regard the fall
        that each of us must know before we rise
        and raise unwrinkled brows to greet God’s eyes.

Film

Rumors of a birth

Readers of P. D. James’s novel Children of Men won’t be prepared for the emotional breadth of the film version by Alfonso Cuarón. Like most dystopian stories, the book is relentlessly grim, icy and pedantic.
Poetry

To Mr. Auden in a time of war

     In the nightmare of the dark
     All the dogs of Europe bark,
     And the living nations wait,
     Each sequestered in its hate
                              W. H. Auden

In this dark time, I want to make light bigger,
to throw it in the air like a pizza chef,
to stick my fists in, stretching it
till I can get both arms into radiance to the elbow
spinning it above us.

But oh, dark is such a genius at argument,
using all the rhetorical figures.
And you aren’t bad yourself, Mr. Auden,
elucidating war, how it subtracts and subtracts light
till each nation becomes a blind man
alone in his own dark, gripping
his cane, unable to cross to his lover
who waits by the pizza parlor. Unable even to see her,
unable to sing out to her
the way a lover might sing out, Susan, it’s you!

In truth, the dark is that personal, fluttering
like a red moth behind my eyelids.
My Texas cousin lies dead this afternoon
and his widow’s at the Funeral Home
with their child, trying to explain where he went.
Isn’t that the brilliant final move
of dark, Poof! to separate us from each other?
Between us, Mr. Auden, you and I have multiplied

the dark till some might say there’s
no escape. But seeing darkness
is seeing something. Maybe that’s why,
as Susan crosses to the blind man, I notice the horizon
begins leaking into the sky. Light reaches
the treetops. It falls in chutes. And then, god help us, like everything, it
     breeds and breeds.







Poetry

The meaning of birds

Snow falling into my open hands.
Like grace. Like mercy, I say.
Flecks of light from heaven.
Splinters of struck stars.

The birds fly frantic.
They can’t keep the snow
from their feathers
so fast it falls and free.

Something says keep moving.
Keep moving or you’ll die.
Stiff wings and a stopped heart
the price of rest.

They leap from branch to branch,
flap their bodies dry,
glide and light and glide again,
heads hunched in the wind.

What will fill their hunger,
stoke the flame of beating wings
when what lives lies buried
beneath the soft weight of white?

What mercy for the birds,
seed of sky and worm of earth?
The grace in my full hands
comes a cold, slow sleep.