Poetry - October, 2010


Bagatelle sans tonalité

I listen from the other room as slow bells ring,
as you take each glass from the water
washing it with the soapy canary yellow dishrag
that your mother knitted for us last Christmas.
And though I can't see your hands I can
hear the wetness like the sound of fingers
on a fogged car window, thinking about how
there is a certain beauty to the atonal, a certain
human quality to the arrhythmic. Like the trees
outside our bedroom which grow thirty branches
in every direction, or the clouds that move above them
in no particular pattern. Yet each and every summer
I will hear the sounds of small birds just before dawn
and later see the erratic transmissions of lightning bugs.
And so it is here, in this atmosphere. We wake up,
we begin to push the unseen weight, we shift
the glory, we do the dishes. And though the grand
rhythm is not of our choosing, it seems to be our
creaturely duty to show what this living sounds like
when the beat is missed or even remains unheard. This is
our rage and our subtle acknowledgment
that we do not feel alone as much as abandoned.


St. John’s Bible, May 2005

Each twist of bird and clover winds so cunningly
into a sheen of wing and figured leaf. Indigo,
ground lapis lazuli, dark ochre, cochineal bleed
across each page; so worlds are wrung,
with a deft touch of wolf's hair, into this tiny Eden.
It's enough to make us forget the late spring
snow outside, the slippery pavement and faintly
flowering bush. Here is a secret refuge.
For Adam and Eve everything, everything waits
on their pleasure—light, darkness, and dazzling color,
the curve of hand on hip or breast. At night the fields
whisper with hidden life; they take the cool
of the evening in sweet-smelling bowers, neither
looking forward nor back to the time before creation.
The tree-line shivers with their every indrawn breath.


Gone for the day, she is the day

Dawn is a dog's yawn, space
in bed where a body should be,
a nectared yard, night surviving
in wires through which what voices,
what needs already move--and the mind
nibbling, nibbling at Nothingness
like a mouse at cheese:



Sometimes one has the sense
that to say the name
God is a great betrayal,
but whether one is betraying
God, language, or one's self
is harder to say.


Gone for the day, she is the day
opening in and around me
like flowers she planted in our yard.
Christ. Not flowers.
Gone for the day, she is the day
razoring in with the Serbian roofers,
and ten o'clock tapped exactly
by the one bad wheel of the tortilla cart,
and the newborn's noonday anguish
eased. And the tide the mind
makes of traffic and the bite
of reality that brings it back.
And the late afternoon afterlight
in which a much-loved dog lies
like a piece of precocious darkness
lifting his ears at threats, treats, comings, goings . . .

 To love is to feel your death
given to you like a sentence,
to meet the judge's eyes
as if there were a judge,
as if he had eyes,
and love.


This poem appears in Wiman’s Every Riven Thing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).


The blossom

Don't tell me I didn't see it, the red flower budding,
that radiant tiny shirt our hibiscus pulled on
to celebrate the summer. Don't tell me the bloom was not—

because it was—starting to open in the hands
of clean light this morning, when I saw it rustle,
fan out its tail, try out its wings, and flutter.

Then he turned and tipped his black bib
toward our hedge, tucked up his feet, and shaped
his fist-size body to an arrow, trusting air.

Listen, I know the facts, why he couldn't have.
But I heard the red hibiscus blossom beat,
rest, thrash, take wing across our yard and settle

at the feeder. There he grasps the perch
with his gray feet and cocks his head and bobs
his flamey crest and cracks a sunflower seed

in his fat rosy beak. Call him a fiesta
for the eye, the highest note in the song
my voice can't reach, but still somehow can sing.

He takes the green world into his body,
turns everything he sees a furious scarlet,
as if it's easy. And how could it be otherwise?



It begins in a cow lane with bees
and white clover, courses along corn,
picks up tempo against rocks.  
It rises to a teetering pitch as I
cross a shaky tree-bridge, syncopates
a riff over the dissonance of trash—derelict
ice box with a missing door, mohair
loveseat sinking into thistle.  It winds
through green adder's mouth, faint
as the bells of Holsteins turning home.
Blue shadows lengthen, but the undertow
of a harmony pulls me on through
raspy Joe-pye-weed and staccato-barbed fence.  
The creek hums in a culvert beneath cars,
then empties into a river that flows
oboe-deep past Indian dance ground,
waterwheel and town, past the bleached
stones in the churchyard, past the darkening hill.