Poetry - March, 2013


Burying my mother

This is what our wandering life has come to.
Our dead stay where they’re put, in different states.
We buried her beside the Texan, who
also loved her. Then we closed the gates.

None of us will join her. There’s the spot
they dug for hours to slide my brother in.
He lies beside my father in her plot—
or what was hers once—beneath Nebraska sun.

In Philadelphia, now, I will not rave
or overstate my grief. I won’t fly with flowers
to grace their level markers. I’m not brave.
Our family’s scattered. Will be. Nothing’s surer.

Who is she, elbow cocked against the sun,
waving to me this morning on the lawn?


Her cry,

the morning when she finds the tomb empty
leaps from her the way the first spry geyser
sprang from the Titanic. She bangs her knee
and ducks to look again. Her adviser,
John, warned her it was dangerous to come.
Holed up behind locked doors, the gang of guys
who claimed to love him. She runs her thumb
across the ledge where his dead body lies.

Or rather doesn’t. Her heart’s a cypress
forming a final growth ring, final grief:
his body gone, his lithe hand, the small scar
from the sharp chisel. To what can she say yes?
Who is she now? Where to put belief?
Her cry gashes the fragile morning air.


Cricket song

My head clangs, my skin congeals
when I imagine your final terrain:
the moldering gloom of the cave,
giant stone corking the mouth
to seal your body in—
you bid me to imitate you, even in this?
Until you rise, Love, I am useless.
Stretching in a long
rectangle of wall-shade,
I pretend my hand crumbles
dank sepulchral dirt. Listen.
In the corner, one cricket abides.
Soft-shelled and tooth-white,
he chirrs his dwarfed wings,
persistent song his answer
to the absence of light.


Michelangelo, Pietà

Hewn from some polar
air they make us breathe
just to look on here,
they appear doubles,
son, mother, one death,

Christ, his body bent,
broken on her lap,
stretches beyond pain.
Mary, suffering
His death till her own
looks out, straight into us.

Why did I bear him?
How can this be mine?
You who have come from
where the living live,
what do mothers do?


A perplex raising

The man on death row in the federal penitentiary writes to me
On lined loose-leaf paper that when he was a boy in the South
He was so absorbed by tent revivals that he knew he would be
A preacher, knew it in his deepest bones. I would stand on my
Bed and preach to the babies, and stand on a barrel and preach
To the chickens and the hogs, and preach the Word to the cow,
Who would not come to Jesus nor to anyone else neither. Well,
That is not how things turned out for me, which is a long story,
But what I want to get down in this letter is the blessings I had
When I was a boy. Now there is much to say that was not at all
In the least blessed, it was a violent and perplex raising we had,
But what I want to get down is that was a time of great wonder
And satisfaction for me because I knew what I was going to be.
I could spend a lot of time explaining how I came to not be that
Which I knew I was going to be but I have wasted enough time
In that fruitless pursuit. Thank you for reading this letter, which
Is a kindness on your part. It allowed me to remember a blessed
Time, there on the old barrel preaching the Word to the animals.