Poetry - June, 2009

Poetry

Lament

In the sixth week in the beautiful city it all threatened
to go awry, too many days of cloud and drizzle, too much time

to sit idly with neither reliably bad American cable
nor the usual cohort of neighbors and associates,

overfamiliar or not. How many times could we study
the cloud-shrouded mountains, the muddy stretch waiting

to dry and go under the asphalt? How many churches
could we wander into, ponder briefly for their artwork

and architectural features (Roman, baroque, gothic,
even all three in one multilayered building,

assembled over a whole millennium), the silent arches,
the bare bulbs dangling from 40-foot cords, the iron gates

and wistful announcements of occasional services?
How many evenings, even, the skies suddenly clear

and the Untersberg bare and muted in the southeast,
the western slopes open and shadowed at the same time,

the sun descending unstoppably to the courts of some lost empire?















Poetry

Dandelions

The bag I drag is solid as earth, clods
I couldn’t shake off roots
reeking of rocks and blackness,
the kind of dirt they’ll use to bury us.
                                                                 As in Iraq,
where the body count climbed so fast
mortuaries posted Help Wanted beside the highway.

And let me mention my own complicity with darkness,
buying a jade jacket sewn by a hungry child
in Singapore. And the way
I say darkness, a skin tone
not my own.
                         Even the calibrations of a poem,
tricky, the justice of lines, evil wrestling
with good in the miniature
Madison Square Garden of a page.

As I weed, I listen to the sweet cacophony
of neighbor kids on scooters, the argument of work,
its ache in my arms.

                                      When the lawn bag rips,
dandelions tumble out, eager to spread their seed.
You know how gullible evil is, sure
of itself, always believing the worst.
Are dandelions weeds or flowers?
Maybe I’ll tear the bag, send seeds flying,
encourage a suspicious universe to bloom.





Poetry

Strewn

It’d been a long winter, rags of snow hanging on; then, at the end
of April, an icy nor’easter, powerful as a hurricane. But now I’ve landed
on the coast of Maine, visiting a friend who lives two blocks from the
      ocean,
and I can’t believe my luck, out this mild morning, race-walking along the
      strand.
Every dog within fifty miles is off-leash, running for the sheer dopey joy
      of it.
No one’s in the water, but walkers and shellers leave their tracks on the
      hardpack.
The flat sand shines as if varnished in a painting. Underfoot, strewn, are
      broken
bits and pieces, deep indigo mussels, whorls of whelk, chips of purple
and white wampum, hinges of quahog, fragments of flat gray sand
      dollars.
Nothing whole, everything broken, washed up here, stranded.
Light pours down, a rinse of lemon on a cold plate
of oysters. All of us, broken, some way or other. All of us
dazzling in the brilliant slanting light.
Poetry

The privilege of water is . . .

That here in the deepest water,
beyond even rags of light,
nearly transparent creatures glitter and flash
like neon signs floating
down the Las Vegas strip;

That as recently as seven years ago
liquid water flowed down
an arroyo on Mars,
shifting sands and turning small rocks, a pattern
like a palm print on a rusting door;

That on a cold night
water vapor makes visible the breath
of small children, who laugh
to see themselves breathe,

and makes visible the broken breath
of old men forgetting their children in refugee camps,
and the drying breath of prisoners in stone cells,
whose mothers and sisters believe they’re long dead;

That in the beginning the Spirit
moved over the waters like a mighty wind;
that the spirit moves through water even now, even now
through the straw held to a sick man’s lips,
blessed from basin to scallop shell
to the forehead of a crying child;
That we are from conception
almost entirely water.











Poetry

Cold comfort

The way Herod liked to listen to John the Baptist,
summoning him from his cell for private chats
but could make no sense of what he said; the way
Festus kept the apostle Paul locked up for two years
because he enjoyed hearing him talk, although his words
made him afraid; the way the German guards, terrified
by night bombings, sought out Pastor Bonhoeffer,
even though he was, by his own account, a provider
of cold comfort, writing to a friend, “I can listen all right,
but hardly ever find anything to say. Yet perhaps the way
one asks about some things and is silent about others
helps suggest what really matters”—did not stop
the sharp rap on the prison door or the words “get ready
to come with us” as if for one more quiet conversation
about what really matters.