Poetry - May, 2011


Prophecy of birds

The Raven

knew flight over waters when all there was
was wet, the ark lost behind the smooth arch
of wings, only a thin line of air
between green sea and grey sky,
then forever and forever
washed up with the slap
of wave against wave.
What weariness to circle
the same expanse,
the echo of rain,
even the wind
unable to land,

The Dove

pale shadow tracing the raven's soar
above an earth-turned-sea,
sought for seven days
any inch of dry,
found only its owner's
chapped hand.

The second week,
its flight fingered the tops of waves
that fingered the tops of trees, releasing,
finally, twigs of green
ready for the dove's
sleek beak.

Its last journey knew no U-turns,
just a straight flight to elsewhere
brimming with bushes,
drenched orchards hungry
for song, hallelujahs
hanging from every
waiting bough.


The sign

Give me a sign, I pray, and then I see
For Sale (Price Reduced) and smile
at the Almighty's roguish sense of humor,

thinking how he must adore us skeptics,
stretching out his carpenter's hands
to let St. Thomas probe the nail holes,

stick his finger deep in the bleeding gash,
feel the spiky bones and fly through
that little space to faith. Two thousand years

bereft of Jesus' body, I need a sign,
although I wonder, could any sign nail down for good
how a God-man walked this curving earth?

And anyway, concerning signs, how childlike
my belief in narrative, as if the question's
always first, and then the answer leaps

in perfect sequence. Sequence, which is nothing
but time's lackey! So I give up narrative,
however lovely to look around—but I worry.

Where? Suppose the sign arrived last week,
for instance, that spider threading sunlight by our garage,
that writhing knot of fire? Or last spring

in Carol's row of jewel-like tulips. Suppose
it was that rag of human song blown by
as we wandered Bleeker Street with Charlie,

just back from war. Or the muffled cracking
as my body breaks beneath the press of time.
Not this, not that—I admit,

I'm down to rummaging the world
for nail holes. Maybe to list what's missing
is to begin to understand what's here.


On Gregory Avenue

Down in the basement folding the laundry, towels first to trim the pile,
I realize that I have lived in this house now precisely as long as I lived
On Gregory Avenue, seventeen years! and that warm little house leaps
Into my memory: the ping-pong table where dad laid out the Catholic
and the hammering of his typewriter in his ostensible study;
The bright yellow kitchen even the radio painted yellow who did that?;
The gargantuan fan upstairs; the raft of small boys; the alpine staircase;
The rocks and stones in the yard stolen from national parks everywhere;
The maple tree that rocketed up next to the garage and is tipping it over;
The sweetgums that provided so many thousands of tiny prickly bullets;
The massive pipe by the furnace that has brained many an unsuspecting
Soul, many of them more than once; the workbench, with another radio,
And the lean white pantry for hurricane supplies; a grandmother's room
Where once there was a grandmother, stern and sweet and then returned
To the Mercy. The days after grandma died, our mom must have paused
Down in the basement, standing by the dryer, holding her mom's towels
Against her face, hauling in the fading elegant holy redolence before she
Dries her eyes and plunges into the alps of kids' stuff. Maybe our house
Is always our house even after we leave and someone else is memorizing
The splay of the kitchen so you can get a sandwich at two in the morning
Without waking up the baby. Maybe if your home is always in your head
You can always live there. Maybe that is one of the ways we live forever.


The last word

  —after Frederick Buechner

And who is this young stripling beside you,
Uncle George bellows from his hospital bed
in Chicago, untamed city of wind and soot.
His white hair in a tousle, he sits up,
surveys us, this man who terrified me
as a child with his fiery preaching.

Young marrieds in the '50s, we stand beside
his rumpled bed above the traffic
on Michigan Avenue, sirens echoing.
In this city my husband is studying
the body's diseases while I read Hamlet
and King Lear, both of us seeking cures.

Lear cries "Howl, howl, howl!"
Surgeon enters with his sharpest knife,
pours medicine that kills before it heals.
No rescue without nakedness, Shakespeare writes,
Lear fumbling the button at Cordelia's throat,
all of us leaning into the final word, mercy.