Poetry - December, 2007

Poetry

Vinalhaven ferry, siren song

Disarming, really, this surging night-dark water.
A harbor seal slips, oil-black, into the sea’s
engulfing folds. On the ferry, three girls eat cherries,

slurp ruby juice from fruit, palm and finger,
linger over pulp. Those black, sea-skimming
cormorants dive into Atlantic waves,

then rise with hooked beaks full.
Three girls consume that succulent fruit,
spit brown pits into crimson hands, pluck plump

cherries from a red-soaked plastic bag.
Their mother leans upon a rail, enthralled
by thoughts of a crustacean mob at work

beneath the shuddering sea. The ferry sways
on night-dark swells, heaves toward
nuns and cans. Bare legs dangling

and rose-wet hair tangling, three girls ripen
hands in flesh, drizzle chins with wine.
A hidden ledge, a granite coast, a fierce,

a laughing tide. Beguiled by forgotten currents,
you cannot not imbibe—three girls, mouths
dripping cherry juice, foreheads scarlet-streaked,

tap feet and pluck again, beauty no excuse.













Poetry

Jewel in the heart

It came to me as I waited at the desk, thinking how to turn
another scattered group toward the day’s work: I want a bell.
Not the electric commands that drilled through our younger days,

not some jingly tinkle. No, something small but clear—a signal,
a reminder, a request. After Christmas we went looking
and my son found a pair of heavy, small brass disks joined

by a leather thong at the import place in town. They had eight
raised symbols in a ring, some scratchy lettering inside.
When he struck them the pure tone hung for seven seconds

in the air, shimmering and clean as the sun. Of course I bought them.
Each day now I put them on the desk, try to keep them quiet.
They want nothing but to ring. They desire not to join but to meet.

When it’s time I hold the thong close to each disk and strike them
at right angles to each other, as I learned from a man who told me
that their true name is tingsha, that in Tibet the monks strike them

when minds start to ramble. Inside, he told me, were the great
and ancient words, Om mani padme hum. We might say: See the jewel
in the heart of the lotus. He rubbed the symbols on the top: here

is the conch shell, he said, here the prayer wheel, the umbrella,
the flower. The students smile each time I strike the chimes,
hold them as the sound wavers, fades. It lasts such a long time.

Such a short time. And then we begin, teasing new sounds
from the old tongue as we can, taking the next steps across
the rocky plain, following the smoky thread on the horizon.

We fold out the map and it tells us where we might be.
We study the compass and it offers some names. We open
the timepiece and it says, Be quiet. Bring the chimes together.















Poetry

Nativity figure speaks

I felt it, riding through the afternoon—
the nights are getting shorter and it’s cold
and then the baby shifted in my womb
and the innkeeper sent us to his sandy field.
I did what I was made to do. And now
who knows what else is possible? God’s breath
moves against the soft nose of the cow.
The moon shines on this shed and on the path
where you lean, watching us. Who are you?
I am the round yon virgin of your song.
You are the sky the light is passing through,
and you are the iron moonlight. You’re sweet fresh-
smelling hay. You’re Bethlehem, the tall kings.
Reach out, release us from this wooden crèche.