Poetry - July, 2006

Poetry

After the biopsy

“Each time that we have some pain to go through, we can say to ourselves quite truly that it is the universe, the order and beauty of the world, and the obedience of creation to God that are entering our body. After that, how can we fail to bless with tenderest gratitude the Love that sends us this gift?”
                                —Simone Weil

The pathology report an icon; the tissue
staining the slide, God’s kaleidoscope.
And those cells, obeying their DNA,
cosmic dust as they whirl and split.
Why not praise cancer, relentless, blind,
that seeks and finds the lymph and blood?
Because I am unthankful, rude.
Because if I linger over this gift,
I will change, I will vanish from the earth.
In Russia, an icon of Mary has wept
for twenty years. Mary, do you see
my nuclei mutating, like words
in “whisper down the lane”? This same God
took your son away. Help me disobey.





Poetry

The recovery of buried poems

Root is what I am, rootpoet
here at home among the worms,
finding here the poem’s terms.”
—Miklos Radnoti, August 8, 1944
If, as it seems, art is nothing, nothing at all—
some sleep only that lulls us toward trees,
what to make of these poems, Miklos,
where you ordered a life into lines?
That brutal stumble through the mountains
might have said enough. Or those curses sneered
by villagers, one pausing near the water well
to dust and dust his sleeves. Finally, you with the rest,
worn through, too settled for another step,
were forced to dig and dig your graves, then

kneel at last on the uncalmed earth there.
What is that light against the fields? Why,
after all that had been done? They sought
to sever tongues from thoughts—those soldiers,
certain in their silence, who carved from hurt
this tender fruit words could have grown
and given seed. Miklos, these hidden poems,
found folded in your pocket. . . . Prove, history,
how the world speaks deeper than decay:
this murmur pulled from underground,
with its challenge of a purer sound and song.

Poetry

Climbing the pasture, I lowered my head

Through lashes,
saw the weave of the crocus
blowing backwards, and in this motion
recognized my life,
the full sadness of existence,
but wanted it still:
the earth and its sugars, these days
like a bridge I could cross.
Poetry

I'll always remember

I’ll always remember
the sweltering night in Missouri,
the pulsing din of the katydids,
the prairie grass stretching away
on the other side of the trees.
In the dark woods across the pond,
a lost calf bleats its anguish—
six times, then eight, then six again.
I sit at the camp table listening,
as so many nights before. In the tent,
sleeping, the boy, now thirteen,
the woman, after twenty-seven years.
Moths and greenbugs attack the lantern,
flapping crazily. Before I finish tonight
they will land in the halo
of the hot gas light, diligently
search out the lantern’s air vents
and incinerate themselves.
In the morning I will brush away
the fine white ash. This is not
a fitting metaphor
for any human aspiration.
The light we are seeking
is not the kind that destroys
those who seek it. True,
the bright burning gas
tempts us sometimes. I know, I know.
There are nights when we feel
that bad. I turn the valve of the lantern
to off and wait for my vision
to adjust to the darkness.
The almost inaudible
breathing from the tent
comforts me. I think of us
sitting on the shore
as the last sunlight seeped
from the sky, watching the boy
cast his fishing line
again and again
out into the pond, catching nothing
except happiness. The light
we are seeking catches all the world
in the shooting arc
of the outthrown line, never
to be lost, not bounded
by night, dangerous
only to death.



Poetry

The Sistine Chapel

On the scaffold twenty meters up
tracing her head in the damp plaster,
Michelangelo knows it’s going to take
more than a breath to make Adam drop
his can’t-be-bothered pose, too bored
to stand even at God’s charged arrival,
held aloft by a crew of hard-working cherubs
who struggle to maintain lift long enough
for contact to occur: a critical maneuver
of the right hand complicated by the added
weight of Eve on whom His left arm rests.
Drops of paint freckle his face as he wonders
how many priests will take offense
but concludes that only skin to skin will do.
Without it, Adam’s forever grounded.
God’s touch is first. Hers is next.



Poetry

Urban renewal

It wasn’t where we wanted to live
but you have to put down roots to thrive.
Daily we bore the shock of forbearance—
our own and our neighbors’: the noise, the smell!
Be fruitful! We tried. Soil of lead arsenate,
cadmium. We added our detritus,
peel and core: redemption. And now
our mineral prison blooms in this,
the year of our departure: now at last
the berries fruit in blue abundance.
Which goes to show our acts are not our own;
what we make does not belong to us.
At best we fade softly as timothy,
and leave our harvest to the next people.



Poetry

Perspective

In medieval paintings, the cobbler stood just inches high
        beside the saints, who rose like water towers,
until Brunelleschi thought up single point perspective,

and proved it, lines receding to a speck on the horizon.
        Once people saw it, they couldn’t forget:
the statues and churches kneeling to just one lover.

How thrilling! To stand at the commanding point.
         Each of us at the center! It’s the great
myth of the personal. Dutiful art teachers swung

the myth in buckets to the next teachers
        until generations later, it bears
the heft of Truth. That is, it did, until the night

I drove the death car, when the sky slit open
        to admit two headlights, double moons
drilling larger and larger holes through darkness

as they bore their terrible gift, two thousand pounds
         of metal toward me, and suddenly I saw the flaw
in Brunelleschi’s myth of the personal. Which of us

can bear to hold the whole world on his lap?
         I swerved then, or something swerved me,
spinning the steel off center so the car did not kill me.

Instead, I floated briefly, picking the lock of the improbable,
        feeling like a patron suspended
in a medieval painting—that one wearing

his everyday red hat and blue cloak,
        keeping his face businesslike,
trying not to say AhHa as he strides up the golden sky.