Poetry - July, 2011


Conversion experience

Suddenly we find ourselves in love
              with fresh cilantro, both of us,

and now we put it into everything—
              salsa, of course, but also into salads

and sides, and we find ourselves
              eating it all by itself and putting

the fingers that have handled it,
              steadied it while we chopped it, up

to our noses, breathing deep.
              The crispness of its leaf's become

an unexplained addiction, a mystery
              so citrusy, of scent or secret spice—

and we are high on how it dawns
              in us anew each time we think

to add it to the soup, and we're
              embarrassed by the way we feel

because we both remember clearly
              another time, though not exactly when,

in which we'd had a very pointed conversation
              and agreed we didn't like it in the least.


The pastor’s wife considers gray

 Am I a God near by, says the Lord,
  and not a God far off?
Jeremiah 23:23

Some days Yahweh's crayon box
holds colors for tiptoeing within regret's bold
lines, and others for scribbling acceptance's
Wild Blue Yonder on bathroom walls,

jet trails through every grown-up's sky. Silver
becomes the dime I find in Seven Eleven's
parking lot, the memory of a minnow's flash
or Aunt Mary's lost ring—found.

And there's this gray crayon's violet wrap,
labeled Purple Mountains' Majesty,
Crayola's Rosetta Stone, a god gone corporate,
and international conspiracy to grab a child's soul.

But what I'd like to believe is that Yahweh, most
mornings, strolls through his garden toward a hillside
door, tugs it open, waves on light, revealing
countless casks holding dyes, glimmers, petals,

screams, crushed insects, explosions, rust,
ointments, folded galaxies, sage, giggles,
lightning streaks, old lady dandelion hair,
locomotives, wine, grief (some casks leak),

blank peacock feathers, neon gas, angel raiment rags.
Then, Yahweh plays.


At Our Lady of Unanswerable Questions School

Another headlong visit to another burbling seething sea of shaggy miracles.
I wear my good black shirt so as to indicate respect and some small dignity.
We are supposed to talk about writing but as usual things spin away utterly,
And we are arguing about basketball and religion and if Montana is heaven.
I say Montana cannot possibly be heaven because it's snowed for two years
Straight there, grizzlies have learned to ski, has no one read the newspaper?
Then a round kid in back raises his hand. He sort of sneaks it up quietly,
As if he wants to ask a question but he's not actually sure he should. Yessir,
I say, how can I help you? When babies are aborted, he says, is there a birth
Certificate? You can't get a birth certificate if no one ever gave you a name,
Right? And if you are going to get aborted, no one would want to name you.
But if you don't get a name or a birth certificate were you actually a person?
His hand has stayed shyly in the air as he asked his three questions, I notice;
As if as long as his hand was an antenna no one could interrupt him or tease
Him or say his questions were stupid or inappropriate or this is not the place
Nor the time for such questions. But when is the time for questions like his?


Rembrandt, “The Woman Taken in Adultery,” National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London

Just as I came out of the Gallery,
I saw a gull among hoards of tourists
encircling the statue of Lord Nelson,
crazed while I prayed he'd make it out, resume
flight I attribute to all birds, boundless.

But my dying: I try to keep it lined
around the edges of the ordinary
so I can—shall I say—appreciate?

Drawn to that picture by the glowing dark
around the woman, kneeling, Christ standing,
the Scribes and Pharisees shrouded in black,
I saw she, too, has just discovered light,
knowing, moments ago, she escaped stoning.

She just this instant came to where I'm going.


Rembrandt, “Titus”

Since I can't pay my tribute to the sun
like citizens in the Roman Empire,
especially that old ragtag Nazareth
where things happened and are progressing here
in my fingers—I have to pay Rembrandt
a kind of tribute, poem after poem.

A man should never outlive his own son.
Titus, you were the last to leave Rembrandt.
Here, seventeen, you will live ten more years.

I started to write these poems about light.
Now all I write about is death and hope:
Titus, looking out at us, planned a life,
marries ten years later, dies in a year.

Say it: the obscenity of dying.

I'll muse on him: a memento mori.
I'll prop his postcard up to light my desk.



There is no waking without him.
The creases in your sheets remind you
his job is to mess with your life. He stalks you
into the kitchen where the coffee splashes your hand
then flings you to the cold baptism of the faucet.
No, you will not forget him when he swerves you to the edge
of the snow bank and overrides your heartbeat,
when he hunts you down with "morning by morning
new mercies I see," the rhythm cutting
your thoughts like a blender's metallic pulse.

You wish he never knew that sometimes
you want to grip a god you can leave behind,
the cool bronze calves of a statue
you can visit in a temple down the street,
a straight-faced fellow happy with an offering
of a charred bird or two. You could finally be alone
with your luxurious fears, escape into the woods
without his breath blowing the leaves into your path,
the expectant open fields of his hands
waiting for you to swipe in your crumbs.