Poetry - May, 2004



He eases into the barber’s chair, closes his eyes,
relaxes as the lather warms his face, remembers
what it was like before they found out he knew . . . everything

His associates had always been impressed that he read
a dozen papers and a chapter of Dickens before breakfast,
remembered their birthday and preferences for coffee,

could announce the heat index in Tehran and the latest numbers
of the Nikkei Exchange, the whereabouts of Jane Goodall
and all the positions for G7alt on the guitar,

but it wasn’t until he let slip that this was only
results 1-10 of about 63,000 in .17 seconds
that they began to imagine his commercial possibilities.

He remembers signing the contract, watching them build the tower,
the miles of petitioners hiking switchbacks up the mountain,
the ceaseless Post-its, his fingers aching

from hours of scribbling, head pounding with another inquiry
about the Kennedys, a recipe for chocolate cream pie,
the weight of the pope’s hat, where to buy Ginsu knives.

He returns from his shave to find 2.3 million
“while you were out” messages obscuring his door,
straightens his multicolored tie, notices

his reflection in the window: the smartest man on earth,
the wonders of the world at his fingertips,
a name on his desk that suggests infinity

and the babbling of an infant.


Jesus at the Juvie Hall

Jesus pulls up a chair to tell me about his day. Today at breakfast,
when the doors were unlocked, he and the others came out of their
and to his surprise, there were muffins! Everyone here is crazy
about muffins. They mean nothing on the outside, but in here
(he looks at the floor and trails off). Jesus tugs at the little braids
in the nape of his neck. I go to court tomorrow. They say
I’ll be sentenced and moved on Friday. He drums
the metal table, balances his feet on their heels. With a sign, I heard
you can get Snickers over there, at least. Just then, he remembers
and pulls a glow-in-the-dark rosary out of his shirt. Jesus says
he is learning how to pray, albeit with help from the Virgin
prayer card from the priest. At night he draws the blanket
over his head and cups the rosary, as if brightness itself
offers protection. There is comfort, he says, in knowing
his grandmother blessed each bead, and when he slides them
through his petitioning hands, it’s as if he’s lacing his fingers
into hers. There, in the sanctioned darkness he whispers, Glory be.

My Presbyterian father

He would sit
Sunday mornings
in his big steepled chair
the cross hung
gold and unswayed overhead
a man in a robe.
I had seen him dress
sitting on the side of his bed
he wore ribbed gauzy undershirts
and white boxer shorts
and my father’s legs
had no hair where socks go.
As the organist played a meditation
he would span his forehead with his hand
and seem to suffer
but then leaning back
his bright eyes would go
fishing for me in the dark congregation
and I waited

and waited until
he caught me and smiled.
During most of the service
I stared at unmoving
biblical men in stained glass.
I loved to have him
see me in church
and after the sermon
I stood in line
and went through
shaking his hand
like we didn’t know
each other
and I told him I enjoyed it
and he put his other hand
on top of mine.


Inner city priest

It might as well be the inner sea,
all these people floating by in surges,
welcome calm after the last parishioner
slips away at low tide,
after the third mass, after he’s greeted
each one personally, remembering
chief worries, daughter
in trouble, husband wronged,
teenage boy not certain
if he’s in or out of religion, black-hatted
old woman who swam in during mass,
fluffy white-suited—some misguided
angel. The day is old. He walks back
alone to the huge rectory built for twelve,
now inhabited by one priest and the tidal wave of his God.

To the gift giver

Since Grace has struck once more
with gifts beyond all need of giving,
we give ourselves to giving thanks.

In giving thanks, we find once more
ourselves inclined to giving;
by Grace giving, we give thanks.

Should Grace return once more
to bring us joy in giving,
all will know a round of thanks—

Once more giving to the Giver thanks.