Poetry - September, 2012


Worldly wisdom?

I’m still looking, scanning,
skipping right to the end at times,
or settling for the gist on the first page,
reading—more selectively across the years—
but reading just the same, in the news
and novels, articles and extracts, poems even . . .
searching for the one, the word, the sentence
that can tell me what it’s all about,
why I’m here, will not be here much longer,
where this morning’s golden-leaving
autumn beauty comes from,
why, and what it’s for,
who thought this whole thing called existence up
and maybe has a clue about its shape
and size and possible duration.
While all the time, beneath, behind,
beyond the endless pages,
the unrelenting streaming of the words,
it unquestionably happens,
keeps on happening,
without any hope or need for explanation,
moving on, while I stand wordless,
gasping in its tumbling wake.


Ananias of Damascus

Saul, you thug who once dragged
believers through the streets,

flinging them from their beds so hard
their arms popped from their sockets,

how like a dying child you look,
your stomach caved in from fasting,

lips blistered with fevered prayer.
You reach into the darkness, trembling

from the exhaustion of reliving
the scene: The light shot out of the sky—

no, it flared from the stones—no,
Jesus, your hair was on fire—

God spoke to me, too, which is why
I stand at your bedside now and beseech

the Spirit to enter. He loves to appear
in the lonely, dank rooms of the faithful:

Noah, Mary, Abraham, all sweating out
their dreams of God. You will learn

how hard belief can be. You will sing
while the guards whip you to the bone,

touch an enemy’s shoulder with grace
while the avenging knife burns at your hip.

One day you will wish for your sickbed again,
this woolen blanket of blindness.

But I do as I am told. I lay my fingertips
on your lids, and your eyes rumble

like stones rolling from the grave. Your lids
creak open, and the light burns through.

This healing is not easy. Something silver
is falling from your eyes. Brother, something

like the scales of a struggling fish
is scattering at my feet.


Dancing in the cathedral

The bell-ringers rise and
fall with the weight of their bells,
holding on for dear life to the pulls,
the ropes rough in their hands,
the young ones lifted up, up
from the belfry floor like
adolescent angels treading air,
as if so caught up in those
peals of sound—each of them in turn
answering the plea of ponderous metal—
they feel like feathers in a wind.

Consecrated, cassocked, gathered
for this task of intricate rhythm-ing,
they learn to weave their way through
the ring-patterns like pigeons to
the dovecote over the cadences
of distance. Even a mile away we
ourselves sway like bells, snared


Le Nid des Anges

(“The Nest of Angels”—sign on a shop in France)

But the store is closed, so we don’t know what it sells.
And we can’t imagine where it is the angels go at night;
do they settle in trees? Or do they really make nests,
and if so, what kind of bedclothes would they use,
gossamer or tulle? Thin wisps, mysteries and sighs?
Or this mist, the brouillard, rising from the green Garonne?
Perhaps something tangible and insubstantial
at the same time, like the host that melts on the tongue
while remaining body and blood, bread and wine.
Vive les mystères. Meanwhile, the angels
are amusing themselves with games like whisper
down the alley and ghost in the graveyard,
as they sip just the bubbles from their flutes
of champagne, and nibble delicate kisses made
of meringue in the faint ethereal light of the stars.


Apple salvation

There’s a stranger in the field of apples.
Somebody’s hands have left a blush
on the Staymans, have scattered half-
rotten fruit in which wasps will burrow.
Somebody’s presence has spun the sugar,
banished bitterness from yellow cores.
Pips have polished themselves like beaks
of sparrows, Sweet Wines waxed tender.

Now is the time for us to climb ladders
and fill a crate for our family’s pleasure.
To hear the ticktock of falling fruit.
To lighten the bearded branches.

Let husbands feel the round arms of their wives,
and wives laugh in voices rich as custard.

Let there be shouting like shaken tambourines!
Let the musician bring his fiddle!