Poetry - June, 2010

Poetry

The year of the cicada

Jesus lights a fire on the shore
and waits for the thin blue dawn.
Time folds like a piece of paper.
Time reaches its end and everything
keeps going. Boats rise and fall
like lightning in the distance.

I remember how the trees were
covered with sirens that year like birds
flying like birds, and how we tried
to lift one onto a stick. It was June
and I was in love. We were
below the northern lights in my memory

water was evaporating everywhere
around us the heat was filling
the air with mist. But of course I recognize
everything after the fact. Jesus waits
for his friends on the beach. The ground
I’m sure was littered with shells.

Poetry

Francis, the wolf, a war and terror

    Once there came a wolf so fierce he devoured not only lambs but goats and children.

    The villagers armed themselves as if going to war but even their weapons could not save them from his teeth, so fear fell like a shadow upon Gubbio and sealed the village gates. Enter the saint: once a dandy, once a soldier, once a prisoner of war and war wounded, who embarked on the Fourth Crusade but on the way gave his sword and supplies to a beggar. Who can take you farther, the lord or the servant?

    Saint whose father beat him and dragged him away in chains, saint who kissed a leper’s stinking hand and set out to embrace Syrian warriors, saint who negotiated an exchange with Sultan Melek-el-Kamel of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. That saint sought and found the wolf’s hiding place, and there said, Brother, do not hurt me. You have committed crimes. You deserve to die. This town hates you, but Brother, I want to make peace between you and them, so they won’t be harmed, and when they have forgiven you, men and dogs will never chase you again. Brother, I know the evil you have done came only from hunger. If the people feed you, will you pledge never to harm a living thing? The wolf put his paw in the saint’s hand, then curled at his feet like a hound.

    O friends, if beasts hold us in such terror, how much more do we fear the fires of hell? Turn to the One who frees you from wolves in this world and flames in the next!

    For two years, the wolf wandered from kitchen door to door. No dog barked. No hand rose against him. Not one child ran from his gaze. When he died of old age, the villagers of Gubbio missed his kind patience. Who can take you farther, the lord or the servant?

    Welcome Sister Death, said the saint when his own time had come and taking her hand into his palm, he drew her famished fist to his lips and slowly kissed her knuckles one by one. O, who can take you farther?









Poetry

Biology: Course review

If you forget what axons do,
or how a virus invades a cell,
remember this—

that light becomes food.
That the seasons rhyme,
a different word each time

turning soil into living song.
That all things work together.
Even death. Even decay.

That this is the way
of the world we got: what is given
grows by grace and care

and knows what it needs.
That life is strong, and precarious,
full of devices and desires.

That what we hold in common
may not be owned. Control
is costly. Close attention

is the reverence due
whatever lives and moves,
mutant and quick and clever.

That our neighbors—
the plankton, the white pine,
the busy nematodes—

serve us best
in reciprocal gratitude:
what they receive, they give.

The way the heart accepts
what the vein delivers and sends it on,
again. Again.

















Poetry

Scots' Form in the Suburbs

The sedentary Presbyterians
awoke, arose, and filed to tables spread
with white, to humble bits that showed how God
almighty had decided to embrace
humanity, and why these clean, well-fed,
well-dressed suburbanites might need his grace.

        The pious cruel, the petty gossipers
        and callous climbers on the make, the wives
        with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts
        of stone, the ones who battle drink and do
        not always win, the power lawyers mute
        before this awful bar of mercy, boys
        uncertain of themselves and girls not sure
        of where they fit, the poor and rich hemmed in
        alike by cash, physicians waiting to
        be healed, two women side by side—the one
        with unrequited longing for a child,
        the other terrified by signs within
        of life, the saintly weary weary in
        pursuit of good, the academics (soft
        and cosseted) who posture over words,
        the travelers coming home from chasing wealth
         or power or wantonness, the mothers choked
        by dual duties, parents nearly crushed
        by children died or lost, and some
        with cancer-ridden bodies, some with spikes
        of pain in chest or back or knee or mind
        or heart. They come, O Christ, they come to you.

They came, they sat, they listened to the words,
“for you my body broken.” Then they ate
and turned away—the spent unspent, the dead
recalled, a hint of color on the psychic
cheek—from tables groaning under weight
of tiny cups and little crumbs of bread.



Poetry

What the angel said

          For Fra Angelico

He spoke to you in blue, in the long call
of light from the top of a Tuscan hill.
Your hand answered, the quick sketch of a girl
taking shape before you knew she was you,
head uplifted, her angelful eyes
sure of what they see: being bodied true
as the stilled wings, the beatified sky.
What words might have passed have passed as air
sighed by the soul in the act of rapture.
Now there is only ochre and thin-skinned cream,
struck gold against the garden’s sudden green,
forever as present as it once seemed,
her hands crossed soft against her hidden fear
and angel’s breath still warm within your ear.

Poetry

Somewhere Every Day

    (after William Fullerton, “I cannot tell11 10 11 10 D)

From South and East, from West and North they gather,
on foot, by car, in rickshaw, tram, and bus,
health, in wheelchair, in joy, in sorrow,
relaxed, uptight, disheveled, and fastidious.
They come, O Christ, to you, to taste the body
that once for all was slain, to sing and pray
and take a cup whose balm brings life from dying—
throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.

The words they hear when they have come together
are chanted, lisped, intoned, or simply said
and tell in myriad tongues with every accent
of body broken and of life’s blood shed.
Mere words convey a gift of perfect freedom,
a debt of love that no one can repay,
a yoke of new and welcomed obligation—
throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.

The spaces where they meet are huge, resplendent,
or huts and hovels all but falling down,
on Sundays jammed but often solitary,
both nowhere and on squares of world renown.
Yet all are hewn from just one Rock unbroken
in whose protection no one is betrayed,
which lets itself be smashed to bits for sinners—
throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.

The hands that tender host and cup are youthful,
emaciated, worn, and manicured.
They take so little time, they bring so little,
to do a work by which so much is cured.
These hands that bring the Savior near are icons
of hands once torn in order to display
with lines of blood the names who come receiving—
throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.







Poetry

Beach pictures, 1954

The stamp on the backs reads July 12th,
Photos faded to green
Ripening to sepia edges.
Only reds are vivid. The sea grays
To a dark line marking the sky.

Aunt Thelma and Uncle Dimps stand on dunes
Scattered with sea oats, her towel limp
Against a thigh, the flounce of her suit.

Joy studies the sand. I etch something
In the air, my hair a tousled wedge.
Mother tucks legs for the pose.

In another, my aunt grasps my sister’s arm—
Laurene, the first to die. Two of us
Lock arms, stoop when waves break.

She stands alone, already separating herself.