Poetry - March, 2011


States of being

Stability is greatly
Why would I ever want to sit
    still and smug as a rock,
    confident, because of my great
    weight, that I will not
    be moved?
Better to be soft as water,
    easily troubled, with
    at least three modes
    of being, able to shape-
    shift, to mirror, to cleanse,
    to drift downstream,
To roar when I encounter
    the rock.

Study war no more

Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).


No one can boast

On the tollway just south of Kenosha
spring sets the boarded-up porn store ablaze,
topaz dousing the peeling paint,
the harp-notes of ice on the gutters.
On the embankment home geese gather
in the mud-slush. Tractors lift their beams
to the rising temple of a new overpass.

I outlasted winter, four months rumpled
under snow. On Christmas we woke
to a broken furnace, the baby's fingers
carrot-stick cold. One night I skidded
off the patio steps. Most mornings I stared
out the window, wondering how far
I'd driven my life in the ground,
asking the darkness how much longer.

I kill the radio. Just the hum of the motor,
the pitted road, my slow, steady breath
like the syllables Yah, weh. I didn't work
at this joy. It just appeared in the splash
and shine of I-94, as suddenly as these Frisbees
and sand buckets in the roadside yards
laid bare by the shrinking snow.


Standing with Alyosha

"Alyosha stood at the crossroads under the streetlamp."
Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

It's a place of darkness where
a human will might do its best work,
where kindness becomes flesh
or deflates like a blow-up Santa
come New Year's. It might be
the snug, well-insulated house,
green lawn groomed, minivan shining
bright in the garage, abuse lurking
in some airless bedroom corner. Or
it might be the stinking deathbed,
the anguished, desperate jail cell,
where Alyosha blesses this
brother's innocence or that
one's best intentions, absorbing
the worst the world wills him. Still
he chooses to kiss the tortured Ivan and,
if stories had a doorway, Ivan's
Grand Inquisitor, too, for,
in the end, it's freely given love
the withered, aging lips
long for. At this crossroads
Jesus kneels before a cowering
prostitute, her breasts bare. He
sticks his finger in the dirt,
sketches what shames them all
but not her, no, judges not
to shame her, says instead,
"Go ahead, throw a stone,
you men who have no sin."
It's the place of darkness
at crossroads everywhere,
offering bewildered travelers
light enough to glimpse
the willing figure love makes or
the long, shivering shadow of its retreat.


Lent opens

and we're off again
with forehead freshly smeared
and spirit seared anew by
memories of dust, rumors of all
or nothing up ahead.
These frigid days and weeks lean
inward, huddling for warmth, and
disciplines attempt in vain
to shape them toward value, meaning,
promise. Warmth will, of course,
return bearing its customary,
temporary, blossoming.
But all remains a stay of execution
till the stone is rolled, those sentries flee,
and startled women run with aching news.