Poetry - April, 2007

Poetry

God's radio

In Religious Ed a nun once told us,
“You should always make the sign of the cross
before and after you pray. The first gesture
opens God’s wavelength; the second shuts it off.”

I wonder if the sister knew how many nights
I would lie in bed, panicked, wide awake
unable to remember if I had signaled
“Roger and out.” Odds or evens—heaven
or hell. I crossed myself without stopping,
hoping to land on evens or at least to interrupt
the feed before memories of Linda Ursoni’s
blouse and her fully developed fifth grade breasts
bubbled forth from the back of my pubescent mind.

Even as an adult, I find myself playing
the same game, while hoping that someday
I might cross myself one last time and be done
with it, but the deep need to hide always follows—
in the name of the Father, and of the Son . . .



Poetry

Sailors' song

The sea tunnels forward as a hymn
with nothing in it
but alleluia,

word lifted and lowered over eleven notes
as though the sound
were a wooden boat upon a real sea,

true boat tossed mightily
until it slips into utter senselessness,
becomes lulled into pure vowel,

timbre of the singers gone sugary and soft,
rosy as the daily wash
of pale pinks and mauves upon the shore:

reflected colors of the sailors’ sky,
chorus breaking upon the watery edge,
sailors singing of the world.







Poetry

Catbirds

You will be blessed if you ever catch
a glimpse of their plain feathers, the gray
of slate shingles in the rain, and their bright
black eyes shining with every good secret
they will never tell. They preferred the thickest
brush along our creek bed and what was
overgrown around the abandoned shed.
My grandfather as he lay dying recalled
the hidden catbirds from his childhood,
how they sang in the thicket of an empty house
every morning as if their hearts would break,
as if they knew the treasures of heaven lay
in every clear note they tendered to the world.
Poetry

Self-portrait

After four years, Michelangelo has reached the end,
and now Jonah, whom he has reserved for last,
dangles his bare feet over the Sistine’s void,
sharing his precarious aerie with a dead fish,
two cherubs and a vine. A marvel of foreshortening,
he reclines on his arm and eyes God, still arguing
petulantly that he is not the man to undertake
such a harebrained job, lacking both talent
and inclination. His fingers point in opposite
directions, one to the threat of Nineveh and Rome,
the other to the safety of Tarshish and Florence,
regarding his own death as a small price to pay
to make a point. Yet as the fresco dries to stone,
he gazes beyond the gap between his intractable
pique and God’s intractable grace, dumbfounded
at the resplendent vault arching above a city at peace.
Poetry

Twelve knives for the new year

Last Sunday my grandma laughed at the memory
of a clumsy silverware thief: one day she came home
to a slamming screen door and a trail of knives
that began in the living room
and petered out in the yard.
She said they were not precious.
But my dad whispered.
He remembered how she came in with them, all in one hand.
In a delicate furious bouquet.
Poetry

Night music

These Yorkshire fells and dales
appear ever to be falling away,
toppling from Emily’s wuthering heights
into wide accommodating valleys
carved by Derwent, Calder, Ribble and the rest
then trimmed by flocks of patient sheep
that crop the slopes and shoulders round
toward that verdant jeweled Jerusalem
folk hereby love to sing about.

Up here, along the tops, however,
driving tight along the teetering edge,
mad vertigo hangs you out there in the balances,
suspended in that stomach-clutching space
between this summit and the next,
flung far into the spinning turn,
the terrible excellence of things.

Might it be that way also at the end,
nothing all that dark and dreadful,
but a life-demanding climb,
agonizing to be sure, all the gasping way
along and up some looming harsh escarpment
grasping toward the final summit where, at last,
you stumble forward into emptiness
to find everything . . . all at once?