ADVENT, 16

ADVENT

 

16.

   ~John 11

 

Why did he weep?

 

There is a calculation here:

Wait till the corpse stinks.

It is never too late

for the elect to be raised

if they are properly wrapped,

if they’ve waited in solitude and dark

long enough to know their fear,

if they have been properly mourned.

 

But why did you let him weep?

 

And that curious prophecy

from the high priest’s mouth—

he was blind, I suppose,

but speaking from second sight

and not of himself

but of God’s chosen children.

This I understand.

 

But why, John Gosepeller,

did you make your Jesus weep?

ADVENT, 15

ADVENT

 

15.

    ~John 10

 

One flock, O yes. 

(I’m trying.)

You must bring them in.

Yes.

They will hear your call.

They will know your voice.

And how will they know?

 

Lambs learn their mothers’ voices

while still curled in the womb.

Once I saw a ewe

close to giving birth,

talking softly to her lamb.

(I’m trying.)

My father’s sheep came

only to him.

Once upon a time,

I found this a comfort. 

 

But now, John Gospeller, 

now I see:

this gate swings 

on predestination’s hinges.

One more door

closed to the many,

open only to the elect.

(I tried.)

ADVENT, 14

ADVENT

 

14.

     ~John 9

 

 

O, I see! I see!

You were cast out,

weren’t you?

Washed your eyes

in the Siloam Pool

proclaimed:

whereas I was blind,

now I see.

 

Your people,

even parents,

turned their backs

on you,

denied you,

you with your new-

opened eyes.

 

Of course you must

have contempt for 

for what you left,

what you lost.

on this strange 

and lonely way

 

Two thousand years 

away from you,

maybe I can see 

your sneer 

as the fear 

that once it was.

ADVENT, 13

ADVENT

13.

      ~John 8

 

It must have been fear—

that most compelling feeling—

that attached them

to your Jesus. Why else

would anyone follow

a fellow who goes on

and on about above

and below, about

himself and his distant

father? And worse—O

worse!—a fellow who sees

people (like the woman

caught in the act) 

as opportunities 

for tedious theologizing.

You scared them, 

John Gospeller.

They believed they’d be

condemned without

your esoteric creed.

It must have been fear.

Likely, it still is.

ADVENT, 12

ADVENT

 

 

12.

   ~John 7

Why, pray, would I follow your Jesus?

He honors the obfuscate;

his work is intellectual malignment.

Otherworldly, he keeps his secrets,

disparages what is human,

insists upon duality.

He will not look me in the eye.

Why, O John Gospeller,

would you have us believe

that this is Word made Flesh?

ADVENT, 11

ADVENT

 

11.

     John 6: 16-71

 

So the flesh profiteth nothing, doth it?

And the work of God is belief?

 

They are still in the storm, John Gospeller:

children wizened with hunger,

wrecked by bombs and fires,

blinded with tear-gas,

sickened by water and air.

And you say

God’s work is belief?

 

Oh yes, John, I am

 murmuring against your Jesus.

How dare you condemn the Pharisees?

At least their rules were clear.

ADVENT, 10

ADVENT

 

10.

   ~John 6:1-14

 

Why multiply loaves and fishes if

your Jesus disparages miracle?

 

If he was sent from heaven only

to teach the elect, why make him

 

show off to the crowd?  And

worse—why have him

 

set up these expectations?

Bread does not increase,

 

fishes decrease because

of the hope for miracle

 

that does not come no matter

how hard the believing.

 

And what are we

among so many?

ADVENT, 9

ADVENT

 

9.

       ~John 5

 

Move away from what you know.

Can you?

Bread and wine,

comfortable and magical words,

candles, flowers,

Victorian hymnody,

linens arranged just so.

Just so.

Walk away 

from stained glass,

stone towers, bells.

Stop being helpless.

Today is the holiest of days.

Stir the waters 

in the pool of mercy.

Be a burning light

 

 

 

ADVENT, 5

Advent 

5.

           ~John 3:1-21

You have heard the chant,

answered the call,

drunk the water made wine.

All that was yours has been stripped away.

And now you are in a dark room.

Your feet root in the earth,

water rises up to your neck,

and from somewhere, a wind.

You shiver there, alone. 

And when you think 

you might have died,

a light shines in the darkness—

you are surrounded by lamps,

there is a lamp in your hand,

and the circle presses around you

and you are part of the circle,

robed in white.

And no one outside the circle,

and no one outside the room,

is saved.

 

 

ADVENT, 2

ADVENT

2.

     ~John 1: 19-51

 

Where is what is true?

Visions of ladders and lambs and birds,

voices from the desert and the sky.

This is the Kingdom of Metaphor.

You who have no guile—

come and abide awhile.

 

 

 

I have decided to read the Gospel According to John during Advent. It was my favorite gospel until I was in my late 40s, when I decided that it was anti-Semitic (It is–there’s no way around that) esoteric and exclusive, and that it probably has little to do with the actual life of Jesus of Nazareth (very likely true). I’m trying to read it again for the first time in more than twenty years, this time not as theology–it is the most “theological” gospel–but as poetry, written by a 2nd century poet trying to make sense of what Jesus was all about. Let’s see how long I can keep going. . . .

ADVENT, 1

I’m trying for a Poem-a-Day during Advent. Here’s the first:

 

ADVENT

1.

Incomprehensible, 

word made flesh among us—

that which shattered 

to make the worlds

congealed—

light made flesh.

We can not receive

until we turn,

look over our shoulder

to glimpse the shadow

as it turns away.

WARNING

WARNING

Dear ones,

Beware of the tiny gods frightened men

Create

          ~Hafiz, “Tiny Gods”

Beware of tiny gods,

so easily displeased

when humans break

the rules. The ones 

who are obsessed

with doom, allow 

no room for breath 

or ease. The tiny gods

who make the fear 

of life and death, 

who mistrust peace,

who are themselves,

and made by, fools.

A NOTE TO DAME JULIAN

A NOTE TO DAME JULIAN

 

This morning I saw what you saw.

Not a hazelnut, but a photograph

taken from Saturn—

a speck of yellow against the dark—

and not all that is made,

only our world with its little gray moon.

So many have left off believing

that we’re kept, and loved.

Strange, isn’t it, 

when you know we can’t know 

the whole Body of God—

just the sacrament,

this outward and outward sign.

 

For John

FOR JOHN

Fifty years have passed since I learned

it is possible to hear snow fall,

it is possible to choose and stay.

And though times and places flicker

on the periphery and people come and go,

always you remain in focus at the center,

standing in the forest in your thin black boots

listening to the falling snow.

DETOUR

DETOUR

 

Spattering of almost-snow on the windshield.

Derelict barns, old pastures gone to brush.

A few horsey places with megahouses,

a small organic farm. I’m a Vermonter. 

I know that all back roads sooner

or later lead to somewhere I recognize.

This one—a self-selected detour

around construction on the highway

between the hospital and home—winds through

vaguely familiar land. I know I’m heading west. 

It’s still the Valley, my valley.

And here around the bend a cluster

of houses, and beneath the clouds I see

the mountains and the long lake’s gleam.

ALL SAINTS

ALL SAINTS

 

O you obscure, you once-known,

venerated in some small town

where your fingerbone rests

in a tarnished silver box

behind a screen in a dusty church

that smells of old beeswax and must–

What did you do to merit dismemberment,

the naming of this provincial shrine?

Did you cure a child? Make some rain?

Were you martyred by an ignorant prince?

Or did you, perhaps, now and then

arise from your cave when the moon was dim 

and fly over the sleeping houses,

singing an incomprehensible hymn?

IN CHORUS

IN CHORUS

When we sing, we sing. We become

the song. Notes have ceased to matter.

Our heart beats the pattern, the shape

 

of the time, the space of the spiral

where we stand.   We drink harmony

from the fountain;  we’re held

 

in the great mystery’s form. Farewell

to self-entanglement. We’re bending

like willows. The valley rejoices.

 

Unlonely, we journey through the night.  

As each stone adds its voice

to the singing of the stream,

 

even our troubles flow like love.

We are beautiful and good.

All our mouth is filled with music.

ADVICE

Write until you’re tired.

   ~Janice M. P.

Write till no more words 

come out of your pen.

Till the skin wears off your fingers.

Write through the banal, the tedium,

the common feelings every animal knows.

There are no new feelings.

Even love is old.

Write until the metaphors are used up,

until the symbols are nothing but stupid.

Write until there is nothing left.

Not a wish, not a thought, not a care.

Then start the poem.

MUSIC LESSON

MUSIC LESSON

 

Hafiz, sing with me. Do you play banjo

or hurdy-gurdy? Can you sing in Polish

or Greek? We never sang around the table, 

here in Vermont or anywhere, not even 

in Warsaw when we were all pleasantly drunk

on Jarek’s soul-cleansing vodka. What will 

it take to make us sing? Hafiz, I need 

to know your ecstasy and I can’t drink 

that much anymore and if I spin, I fall 

down dizzy and sick. I’ll have to make do 

with walking while all around me the amber 

ash leaves swirl and the maple trees bleed,

and the memory of a great-horned owl sings

from the pines in the woods across the way.

 

I’ve been rereading the poems of Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

YOUR TURN

YOUR TURN

You locked the door,

put your hand over our mouth,

ground against us.

 

Now we have many doors,

and they are all open.

We have a voice

 

and we are not ashamed.

You thought to grind us small

but together we are bigger

 

than you can imagine.

Truth does not need bluster and shout.

It is your turn to be afraid.

FOUR POEMS FOR ELIZABETH

FOUR POEMS FOR ELIZABETH

Feb. 1904–Sept. 1998

1.

You always made me tea.

The love and sorrow of your life

tangible in your kitchen

as sunlight through the windows:

your husband dead, your son, 

barn crumbled, pastures overgrown.

 

You carried the tray yourself. 

Slow, but I always get there.  

At the table you poured Earl Grey 

from the green pot into thin cups,

gave me homemade cake, a linen napkin.

 

Outside, daffodils and appletrees,

irises, roses, blew wild in tangled beds.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to me,

here, alone in this house?  I’ll die?

Your elegant French gesture of dismissal, 

the amusement in your eyes.

 

2.

One day I said had no time for tea

but you would not let me go:

 Nonsense!  No time! 

We stood by the sink, 

nibbled date cookies from a tin.

More;  they’re so good.  

I’ve been saving them for you.  

Have more.

 

The first stroke carried you back 

to the house by the lake

where you spent seventy summers.

You laughed from the hospital bed,

your eyes open to the sky. 

Waves shimmered through your ceiling.

Can you smell the water?

Can you hear the gulls?

 

When that last boat came to carry you away 

 you shrugged and smiled again.

Home or abroad, it doesn’t really matter.

There’s goodness everywhere I go.  

 

3.

The day you died, I was picking apples,  

snapping them easy off the trees.

Above the orchard, two ravens

and a red-tailed hawk spiraled

in a kettle of rising air 

and I heard your voice.  

Acceptance, you said, remember.

Remember, to every thing a season.  

 

When the harvest was over

I drove to your house alone.

Someone had raked the leaves from your garden, 

piled pumpkins on the wide stone step.

Under the rippled clouds

a ragged scatter of snow geese

so high I could barely hear their call.

 

4.

You’d had a sheepdog years ago

who woke you one November night.

Your husband got up to open the door,

saw the heavy falling snow.

That dog went up the hill to find the sheep.

We didn’t even know it was snowing.

She put them all in the barn, 

came in, lay down like nothing had happened

Why can’t people be like that?

Pay attention to things?

 

I don’t leave my friends,

I told you, but I did.

Somehow, with all the miles between,

I could not find a time.

 

We sat one afternoon 

in your cooky-scented kitchen,

looked out at the snow falling on your garden.

You began Frost’s poem about the crow

and the hemlock, and I joined in.

We laughted to know

we loved it best.

 

I would like one more cup of tea with you,

just one more.

 

 

(It’s been 20 years, and I still miss her.)

RALPH NADING HILL CONTEST WINNER, MARCH 31, 2004

PASSAGE

PASSAGE

She went to the oracle

bringing an offering

of incense, a white pebble,

a drop of blood

on a leaf of thyme.

I am empty she said.

 

            Go deeper the oracle said.

 

But I’ve seen the crystals

growing from the floors

and ceilings, I’ve slipped

into the green waters filled 

with white salamanders

and blind fishes, 

I’ve touched the walls

covered with luminous worms

and spiders with legs

as long as my arms.

 

             Go deeper the oracle said.

 

I’ve been all the way in,

she said, all the way

to where the walls

are covered with paintings

of antlered men

and dancing women,

of suns and moons

and disembodied hands.

I’ve tripped over the bones 

of wild bulls and giant bears. 

 

             Go deeper the oracle said.

 

But there is no door, 

no passage, 

leading beyond that deepest cave. 

The only way left

is the way back out.

 

         Ah then, said the oracle.

         Ah.

OAK AND MAPLE and FOUR LITTLE POEMS

OAK

Drop your leaves for now.

Stand alone in the cold,

squirrels sheltering

in your hollows.

 

Under your feet,

forgotten acorns already

swell, each holding

your pattern encased.

 

Length of day, 

strength of sun, 

depth of rain, 

the air, 

 

the axe,

your future 

contingent 

on the world.

 

 

MAPLE

Sweet ladies in green, 

whispering secrets, 

flirting with birds, 

drawing sugar from the sky.

 

Bold ladies in scarlet, 

throwing their favors 

profligate to the winds, 

the soils, the streets.

 

Skeletons of ladies, 

cracking 

their knuckles 

in the night.

 

Generous ladies–

oh how generous!–

filling our mouths 

with blood made of light.

 

 

4 little poems

1.

You see what is there:

the dying trees.

What can the sun do?

The wind?

 

2.

Learn to worship dirt,

to worship water.

Under your feet is

every thing you need.

 

3.

Do not waste your mind

on the future.

All you have is seed

to plant today.

 

4.

At the end, abundance

of distinction. Like human

hands, no duplication.

Every loss a loss.

HER LAST MORNING IN STONE HALL

This is a curious piece, a fiction about the old building where when I was a child I went to summer camp and where later I was a counselor and an adult staff member.The description of the building is fairly accurate–it was not in very good shape even in my childhood–but of course the character and her situation are entirely made up. The building burned down a few months before renovations were to have begun, and I often think of it. Clearly it was quite wonderful.

 

 

She awakened to the sound of rain falling on the steep slate roof, dripping from the eaves, rustling through the vines clinging to the stone walls. She lay in her bed for awhile, just listening. Rain had not always been welcome to her, in this place. When the children were here, and it rained for days and days, it had been hard to keep them occupied. But now, it didn’t matter. She liked the rain. But it was time to get up, time for prayers. She pulled the woolen blanket smooth over the thin white sheets and straightened her pillow. The small bed and the wooden chest-of-drawers were the only pieces of furniture left in the long, narrow room. All the other third-floor rooms were bare of furniture, but there was an untidy pile of fragile, leather-bound books on the floor in the room at the other end of the hall. The door of that room was closed, and she would not open it again. 

She dressed quickly in her tan slacks and soft blue shirt and padded down the hall to the bathroom, a basic room, utilitarian. Her towel and bar of soap and toothbrush were its only furnishings now. Thin, rattly metal showers had replaced the bathtubs years ago. They were rusty now, and each sink had an iron stain beneath the faucet. The toilets were only half-concealed behind cheap plastic doors. The room still smelled of toothpaste and strong soap. She rinsed and wrung out the underwear and socks that had been soaking in one of the sinks, and climbed out the window onto the fire escape where her wooden drying rack stood, sheltered under the deep eaves. It didn’t really matter now, she thought as she hung her things up. They’d dry soon enough.

She walked slowly down the two flights of the wide staircase with its comfortable bannister to the hallway that split the main floor in two. She turned right, toward the kitchen. It had been the busiest room, once. The cook had always been there before anyone, pouring juice into the the small tumblers for the children to drink before they went to prayers. The cook fried donuts on Mondays and Thursdays, and every day she made the breakfasts and lunches and dinners that sustained them, perhaps as much as the prayers did. But the kitchen was quiet. In the big, deep sink where once she’d scrubbed the huge kettles and pans, there was only a teacup. 

Nancy opened the refrigerator and took out the pitcher of juice, just enough left for this morning, just enough to fill the one small plastic tumbler that remained. She drank, put the tumbler in the sink beside the teacup, and left the kitchen. Turned right again, into the cavernous dining room with its tall, uncurtained windows and deep windowsills. The trees outside were still dripping with rain, but the clouds were beginning to show firm edges and there was a strip of blue sky in the west. It would be a sunny day. Through the dining room, she passed into the tower room, its gray floor spattered with paint from years of art projects. The easels were gone, the shelf that had held the paints was empty. But the bell rope still hung down through the hole from the sacristy above. They’d always taken turns ringing the bell on the Fourth of July, before they went out to watch the fireworks across the lake. She climbed the creaky winding back staircase as she had every morning.

A tiny landing opened into the chapel. She picked up the package of matches on the windowsill as she entered, and  lit the candle in the bowl in the center of the carved wooden altar. She stopped then, as she always did, to gaze at the Eastern window. The light was still too low to illuminate the glass, but she knew the outlines of the figures as well as she knew the outlines of her hands: Mary Magdalene, Mary the Blessed Mother, the Other Mary, and the angel before the empty tomb. Beneath their feet, the blue and white flowers that graced the forest around the Stone Hall bloomed once again, one last time. She breathed in the smell of the chapel: old wood, the ghosts of incense and beeswax and wine. 

The little sacristy was empty now except for the bare cupboard and the bell rope with its two knots, spaced to fit her hands. The old rope was rough, the knots greasy with age. She rang three times, and looked out the narrow window to watch the pigeons circle the tower as they did every day, four times a day. The bell never disturbed the bats, though now and then, in the summer, a bat had made its way down from the belfry and swooped through the chapel. She had killed one once, with a broom, because it had frightened the children. Thinking about that always made her sad. Down the road and up the hill, she could just see the cemetery where the dust of so many dear ones lay under their stones. 

Back in the chapel, she sat in the old carved chair in front of the prie-dieux. The red cushion was mended. Her prayer book was mended, too, with heavy linen tape. It opened by itself to the morning office. She sang the psalms, her strong voice echoing from the stenciled vaulting and she sensed the change in the light as the sun rose between the layered clouds. 

Once, on the wall opposite the altar, there had been a tiny pipe organ with foot-pump bellows. That had been the first thing taken away, then the pews with their carved crosses, then the old brass altar cross and candlesticks.  When they had gone and the sounds of workers’ voices and their power tools were silenced, she had placed the blue pottery bowl on the altar, and set a thick candle in its center. When there were flowers in the meadows, she arranged them around the candle. When there were not, she used bits of evergreen. In Lent, the bowl was empty of both candle and greenery. Now, in Ordinary Time, in late Spring, the candle was surrounded with a few sprigs of vetch and a precious branch of wild plum blossom.

Once, when Compline was over and the children had gone to bed and the grown-ups had gone down to the Common Room to drink wine and tell stories, she had sat alone for awhile in the chapel, in the quiet darkness. And suddenly, a sharp wind had filled the room, rattling the windows and slamming the door, and the candlewicks lighted again into pointed flame. But the children in their beds had not been alarmed, and the people in the Common Room had not heard a wind.

When she had finished the morning prayers, she blew the candle out and left the chapel through the main door, which she closed behind her, quietly. The bedrooms on the second floor, like the ones on the third floor, had been emptied long ago. The iron beds had been sold as scrap, the old mattresses taken to the dump, the dressers and little tables had been sold, too, or given away. The paint on the floors was peeling, the holes here and there in the white plaster walls the lath showed through holes in the plaster. But she had kept the windows as clean as she could, and she stepped into one of the rooms and looked out over the ragged green lawn and the trees toward the lake and the mountains. 

When she was a girl, the trees had been saplings, and she had been able to see the lake, which was now just a glimmer between the leaves.She would not go down to the lake again. It was all different. The old split-willow on the edge of the smooth stone shore had blown down, and the path to the pebbly beach was eroded by the passage of too many feet. The ashes of too many fires, and memories of too many stories told by too many people long gone: the man who had never seen fireflies, the man whose grandfather had been shot in the village square, the woman who no longer believed in the resurrection. The ghost. This was the room where once she had sung lullabies to a small homesick girl. She’d walked the hallway in the dark, quieting the restless children, comforting the sad, calming those who were afraid of the ghost. 

In the mornings, back then, they’d all arisen at the sound of the morning bell and dressed in silence, and third floor and second floor children had filed downstairs together. Juice in the dining room, up the back stairs to the chapel for prayers, back down the main stairs to the dining room for breakfast, completing the circle, all together.

But now, she made the circle alone. When everyone had left the Hall, she had said that she would stay, and no one seemed to mind. 

There was one table in the dining room—not one of the long tables where they’d sat and sung together after their meals, but the little serving table, painted green. She took her bowl and spoon from a shelf in the kitchen, and poured out her cereal—the last in the box. She sat in the only chair, eating slowly, gazing out across the little table toward the windows. 

Once, between each pair of windows, there had hung a painted shield, symbolic of a saint. The shields were gone. She did not remember what had happened to them. It had been long ago. 

Sunlight dazzled the raindrops on the trees in the forest. She would not go there again, down the wide path to the altar in the grove of trees. They had always been silent when they approached that altar, and silent around it: no jabbering or teasing, no sound but prayer, and their singing. A wild, strange wind had blown through there once, too, on a sad day, long ago. And beyond the altar, the sharp stone cliff, the sunset point, the steep drop to the lake below. She had not been there for many years, but the memory was sharp, and in her dreams the place was always shining.

When she had finished eating, she washed her bowl and spoon and the teacup in the big sink, and put them away on the shelf, though she knew it did not matter. She closed the kitchen door behind her and stepped once more into the Common Room. Above the mantlepiece, a single nail showed where another shield had hung—a painting of the rocky cliff and the single rock below it that was the symbol of Stone Hall. Sometimes, in this lovely old room, she thought she could hear voices, echoes of stories and songs tucked between the cracks in the wainscoting. But not this morning. All was empty, hollow, in order. She closed the door of the Common Room.

She opened the heavy front door and stood again on the porch. The sun had risen over the mountains, over the clouds, and the light slanted across the tops of the trees. She knew that the ripples on the lake were glinting in that new light. Everywhere she went this morning, she found a memory of music, and on the porch, too, a memory of moonlight. There were maple seedlings between the stones of the front walk. This last spring, she had not bothered to weed them away.

She left the front door open when she turned back inside. The empty library on the right still smelled like books, but all the shelves were bare. There had been charades here, once, and music lessons, and now and then people in love who wanted to be alone.

But now she must say farewell to the cellar, through the last door on the right, down the steep stairs. She did not turn on the light. No chairs, no tables now, the murals on the walls mildewed away. But in the dark, at the end of a cobwebbed passage, a low door opened to the tiny room at the center, the most secret place, named for the Joseph who had given his tomb. A stone altar, bare. A wooden cross, empty. Earthen floor. Light from a slit high in the wall, a gap in the stone foundation. Everything here was as it had always been. She stood there until the light spread across the surface of the altar, until everything she remembered grew clear and hard. She turned away, closed the door and locked it with the iron key she wore on a cord around her neck.

The hallway was filled with sunlight, coming in through the open door. Nancy opened the back door, too, and left it open, propped with a wooden wedge. In the old days, the children had always come and gone by that door. She walked down the steps quickly, lightly, and turned onto the winding road and up the hill. She did not look back.

 

MEDITATION WITH ANIMALS

MEDITATION WITH ANIMALS

 

I set my coffee cup on the table, 

open the book for lectio divina.

I will not light the candle today

because the north wind blows through the window. 

The white cat creeps up onto the table

and asks to be in my lap. I comply. 

I open the book. The dog, who has been

asleep on the couch, looks out the window

and sees a rabbit in the yard. She screams

to go out. I set the cat down, cover

my cup with a saucer to keep the coffee

warm, replace the bookmark, and get up to

let the dog out. My husband, who had trouble 

sleeping last night, is still asleep on the

porch, so I guide the dog past him, silent. 

I hold the dog’s collar till I’m sure 

the rabbit has escaped through a holes in

the fence, and I let the dog go. She tears

around the yard. I return to my table 

and book, listening for the dog’s call to 

come in. The cat settles back on my lap. 

I read a sentence, and there is the bark. 

I do not cover my coffee this time, 

but go through the porch to the back door 

and let the dog in without waking my

husband. I give the dog her rawhide bone

dipped in peanut butter and return to 

the table, the cat, and the lukewarm 

coffee. I read another sentence.

STREET DANCE–and the process

I wrote this last year. The finished poem, if a poem is ever “finished” is the first one. It’s followed by the rough draft and various revisions.

 

STREET DANCE

We have not come so far;

we are so close to home—

our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. 

There are bears among the stones.

Everyone knows how to dance—

the woman twirling in her short skirt,

her partner in his green shirt,

those flirting girls, 

old people and their little dogs,

the children in their wild cavort.

 

 

how I got there:

 

STREET DANCE

At sunset, young animals 

make ephemeral alliances 

and run and run.

Human children here are doing that now

while adults dance, or watch,

or play in the band.

Everyone knows how to dance,

even the people sitting in the folding chairs

chatting, eating ice cream.

Mostly it works, 

what we do. Even though

we’re too far away.

We think we’re here, 

but our brains—

those soft machines—

still live in caves of bones.

A tiger behind every tree.

We need mates, enough space

to gather and hunt and defend.

Our children.

Bands of brothers. 

A powerful sisterhood.

Sharp memory of every fear.

The gods need room 

to speak to us—

they leave spaces in our skulls.

If the gods are gone

we fill the holes ourselves.

What will become of us—

these children in their wild cavort,

the woman twirling in her short skirt

and her partner in his green shirt,

those flirting girls, the old people

in their baseball hats, sitting

on the benches in front of the post office,

holding their little dogs 

or resting their hands on their canes.

July 17, 2017

 

STREET DANCE

Consider: our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. We need 

mates, children, enough space to gather and hunt. 

There are bears among the stones, panthers in the trees.

We remember every fear. The gods 

need room to speak to us.

If the gods are gone we fill the holes ourselves.

 

At sunset, young animals make ephemeral alliances 

and run and run. Human children 

are running together now while adults

dance, or watch, or play in the band.

Everyone knows how to dance,

even the people in the folding chairs

eating ice cream. Eating ice cream

is another way of dancing.

 

What will become of us—

the woman twirling in her short skirt,

her partner in his green shirt,

those flirting girls, the old people on the benches 

in front of the post office, holding their little dogs 

or resting their hands on their canes.

Our children in their wild cavort.

August 28, 2017

 

STREET DANCE

We have not come so far;

we are so close to home—

our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. 

There are bears among the stones.

Human children in their tribes

hunt across the green.

We all know how to dance—

the woman twirling in her short skirt,

her partner in his green shirt,

those flirting girls, 

old people holding little dogs 

or resting their hands on canes.

Young primates in their wild cavort.

undated  but with the comment: (Fairly soon, there will be no poem left.)

 

STREET DANCE

We have not come so far;

we are so close to home—

our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. 

 

STREET DANCE

We are so close to home—

our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. 

September 14

CAVE

CAVE

 

I was in Shaw’s to buy veggie burgers,

making my way down the winding aisles

of chips and sodas, pet foods, cans and jars

and bags of this and that. I’d been annoyed

by the heat, the traffic delay on Route 

17, the new medicine added

this week to my list, because I’m growing

old. I thought of that boy in the cave who 

speaks 5 languages, told them what to bring.

A boy—at 14 more grown up than I—

without a country, and every day I

complain of mine. In the Times—his thin

face peering through the gloom. I bought my

veggie burgers, and drove the 6 miles home.

THE SHELL OF BELIEFS

from a prompt

THE SHELL OF BELIEFS

 

The chambered nautilus expands,

seals off each outgrown space,

and yet the empty rooms remain

as spiraled witness to the change.

 

The growing shell is not a burden

to the wanderer inside

who uses it to stay afloat,

and when it’s time, to dive.

 

And thus may we use all we’ve known

and all that we’ve believed

to navigate the sea we’re in

as long as we’re alive.

GARDEN PARTY

Garden Party

in honor of ol’ Walt Kelly

We are dancing on a dingbat 

in the fury of a gale

while a wiley alligator 

winds a kitestring on his tail,

and we do not have to worry 

if the fury can’t abate,

for the foolish old bassoon man 

has a catfish on his plate

and the streamlined fancy foremast 

casts a shadow on our fate.

 

O, the moral of the story 

is the wellspring of the fool,

and the quarrel of the sorry 

is the spinning of the spool.

 

When the roses grow forgotten 

in the gardens of the moon

and the chickens all fly skyward 

on the string of the balloon, 

when the demons do their darndest 

to knock acorns from the tree

and the long-awaited pirate ship 

comes sailing from the sea,

then we’ll know it’s time to cut the cake 

and have a cup of tea.   

 

O, the moral of the story 

is the wellspring of the fool,

and the quarrel of the sorry 

is the spinning of the spool.

 

I wrote this ages ago, in imitation of the great Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” poetry.

NEWS FROM THE FRONT

NEWS FROM THE FRONT

Meanwhile, the wrens who nest

in the wooden pole that holds up

the clothesline are feeding their hatchlings.

 

All day long, they come and go,

poke bugs into the dark hole

where the babies eat, and grow.

 

The dog barks on the porch.

A great-crested flycatcher rests

for a minute on a blooming branch

 

of dogwood. I sit on an overturned

flowerpot in the garage, watching

through a dirty window.  A chipmunk

 

squeals and runs away. A breeze

flashes through the grass. A red-eyed

vireo sings on and on.

BROWN ANOLES

BROWN ANOLES

1.

Everglades in the dry season. 

Alligator tracks in mudflats, 

mangroves reaching for wet. 

A turtle with a red head, 

one swallowtail kite, 

a brown canal of white birds. 

So much itself, so damaged, 

but when we are gone 

and the river of grass 

overtakes the canals, and the sea 

takes the highrises and malls 

our bones will join the shells

on the shores.

 

2.

Beside a turquoise pool, 

lizards appear and vanish 

on the edges of sight, 

discrete motions, 

particles, not waves. 

Brown anoles, delicate 

and charming wisps of life, 

invasive killers, displacers—

so lovely, so terrible.

 

3.

What could they give me to get me to stay? 

No money, surely, no luxurious house. 

Not here, this land of traffic and noise 

where people live by selling things 

and fixing things and cleaning things—

streets and pools and lawns 

and the tops of the walls built 

to keep out people like themselves 

unless they’re cleaning or fixing.

 

4.

The plastic dinosaurs in the botanical garden 

roar above the calling birds. 

The screen house is filled with butterflies. 

Brown anoles eat them. 

Anoles eat everything—their own babies, 

their own molted skins, their broken tails. 

Anoles everywhere. 

One climbs an orchid stem, 

puffs out his orange throat in threat.

One of the dinosaurs looks like a chicken. 

T. rex’s tiny forelimbs are disturbing. 

It’s hot, too hot even for Florida in May. 

DOUBLE DACTYLS

 

DOUBLE DACTYLS

Written over a period of several months. Try it sometime. . . 

 

1.

Hopalong Cassidy

rode into London, his

horse was worn out from the

long ocean dip.

 

Hop said “The horse is so

antediluvian

next time I’ll make it an

aeroplane trip.”

 

 

2.

Thomas Sterns Eliot

wrote lots of poetry,

most of it excellent;

much of it sold.

 

Thomas, however, was

malasartorial–

pants were too long, so he

wore the things rolled.

 

 

3.

Theodore Roosevelt

went out a-trampling in-

to the deep forest in

search of big game.

 

There by a brook sat a

parasaurolophus–

long thought extinct, and

as huge as its name.

 

 

4.

Little Red Riding Hood

minded her mother and

went to her Grandma’s a-

long the right trail.

 

Wolf never met her, so

characteristically

old Jakob Grimm had to

make up the tale.

 

 

5.

Susan B. Anthony,

activist feminist,

thought if she worked hard she’d

get things to change.

 

Who could have guessed that such

antiestablishment

patterns of thinking would

still seem so strange?

 

 

6.

Frederick Wertheimer,

great Common Causer, be-

lieves the campaign style is

wicked and wrong.

 

Most politicians, so

unsocialistically’re

happy to sell out their

souls for a song.

 

 

7.

Little Lord Fauntleroy

dressed in his Sunday best

called on Rebecca of

Sunnybrook Farm.

 

He never liked her, so

unsympathetically

twisted her elbow which

caused her great harm.

 

 

8.

Jolly St. Nicholas,

frequently flying, one

eve in December a-

bandoned his flight:

 

“I’m sick of being so

omnidirectional.

Christmas be damned, and to

all a Good Night.”

 

 

9.

Princess Elizabeth

learned about protocol,

minded her manners and

kept her nails clean.

 

Good that she did, given

heritability:

when she was grown, they sang

God save the Queen.

 

 

10.

Jacqueline Kennedy,

so very stylish–de-

signers kept busy cre-

ating her shifts.

 

When she was widowed, she

un-Cassandra-ically

didn’t beware of a

Greek bearing gifts.

 

 

11.

President Kennedy

lived in the White House and

said “For your country ask

what you can do.”

 

I think up dactyls and

hypercompulsively

save them in notebooks.  So–

how about you?

BREAKING

BREAKING

It’s what happens when you see it,

when you know it’s all free as God.

 

One day it’s all duty,

but the rope breaks,

or a bell rings far away.

You see someone else

doing the thing you could not do

and all the stars come out  

and your closet door 

blows open wide.

 

And now what do you expect?

Nothing.  Nothing, at last.

Perhaps sunrise.

When you drop a cup, it will fall.

You will not glance off Earth,

go careening into the dark.

But the rest, not a thing:

consistency least of all.

 

Even what you will do tomorrow.

Sunrise, yes, yes,

but the color of the clouds,

the way the wind moves which new leaf,

where the sparrow sings,

the pattern of the towhee’s scratch.

What treasure will disclose.

How many orange tulips,

and  asparagus from each deep root.

 

 

 

published in Ruah, 2005

THE LAST SONG

Last night, the chorus I sing in had its last practice with our long-time conductor. I wrote this this morning, thinking of her and our time together:

 

THE LAST SONG

~for Susan Borg

Every song is the last.

How can I keep from singing

that group in the church loft,

remember? and we stopped

and looked around, amazed.

No audience but ourselves.

Francois and Chuck over the rainbow,

with tears in their eyes and our eyes.

Hallelujah on New Year’s Eve

and the audience sang, too.

Hearth and Fire that last night,

all together, my voice breaking

as I met your eyes. Every song

is the last—each song, each time,

these singers, where they are,

what they carry, what they hold,

what they let go.

IT’S A WINDY DAY

IT’S A WINDY DAY

 

Mother Hölle’s coiling 

       up thin threads of whirling

             rain. Tick, I hear her reel 

click. Deer on tiptoe carve a twisty 

         path to the curving

               creek where swallows gyre

at hatching flies encircling

         boys who cast and spool

                 at trout turning

through water’s whorl.  

          In the spinning

               sky, silk  dragons entwine,

                                             their tails entangle

                                                      in the wind.

 

 

June 5, 2009

PROMISE

PROMISE

 

We keep showing you:

 

The little frogs, the birds.

Islands and mountains,

drowned rivers, 

fertile fields.

Brown leaves out of season.

 

Trees move so slowly.

 

Don’t let dread freeze you;

ice is deadly as heat.

Keep moving. 

Stay together.

Stamp your feet.

 

And promise us 

 

you’ll save something:

one sparrow, 

one sapling.

One patch 

of hallowed ground.

 

From 2015.

WALPURGIS NACHT

WALPURGIS NACHT

Last hold of winter, grip of dark and cold,

our times of gathering close by the fire.

Tomorrow the maiden will strew flowers,

tomorrow the furrow, the scattered seed.

But tonight, once more belongs to the old

who know to sit quiet and count the stars.

Blessed sameness in the passing of years—

mountain snows flowing from river to sea,

trout lily leaves poking out from the mould,

rhythm of courting and birthing and tears.

Shall we gather tonight on the mountain?

Shall we sing together the last winter hymn?

Already the children dance by the fountain.

In the light of the sun, our fire grows dim. 

Page 52: Impounding the Overflow

I think it was during National Book Week that people on facebook used to post, say, the 3rd sentence on page 52 of whatever book was closest at hand. This is a found poem from 2012, cobbled together from a bunch of those sentences.

 

IMPOUNDING THE OVERFLOW

1.

Methanogens, red paper hearts, 

white paper lace, cartoon cupids, 

grey seals, are archaea. 

The central brainstem stands up

like a fist on an arm, renowned 

for many haul-out sites

over and around it, 

dominating it both physically and mentally..

Every computer fits easily on the page

by impounding the overflow 

from the spring into a reservoir.

Besides being a theological dilemma, 

it is also a judicial one–

think about it critically.

I think it was this line of reasoning 

that roused me or maybe 

it was my desperation that made 

me unconsciously pound the door 

with the back of my head.

That was, ‘I love you.’

2.

Obtain title to “desert land” 

by irrigating twenty acres.

As you begin, understand 

that the Indians’ new homes 

are ‘settled, fixed, and permanent.’

as a product of their metabolism. 

Lounge in the sun and enjoy 

the abundance of fish

Consider the Indians friends and neighbors. 

Produce the flammable, odorless 

gas methane. Explore flash 

content on other webs.

Go to sleep now like a good child.

3.

Cooper treads through the darkness, 

enters the tent, and is asleep instantly.

BAD COLD

BAD COLD

 

Sick, and trying to remember

the grandchildren, who started this.

Sick, and thinking of refugees sick

in tents in terrible weather. Sick

and trying to be grateful for clean water,

warm blankets, my blue mug,

tea, fuel to heat the water. Grateful

for music on the radio all night,

the pressure of the dog’s sturdy body

beside me on the bed.

THE OLD LADY DISCOVERS FACEBOOK AND OFFERS A SORT OF APOLOGY

THE OLD LADY DISCOVERS FACEBOOK

AND OFFERS A SORT OF APOLOGY

All you want to do

is touch.  It used to be easy,

while winnowing grain or stalking beasts.

Your bodies remember 

the smell of sweat in the longhouse,

gossip by the well, 

embraces under the trees.

   

Once you spoke while hanging wash

or mending nets or minding babies

or scything hay or boiling sap

or making shoes or spinning thread

or pounding nails or stitching quilts.

Now

you are scattered like chaff,

dispersed as hunted game,

 

and so are we.    

 

Oh, children, do not complain at us!

We are as exiled as you.

Like you we want to find our friends

and digging is so hard.

Disembodied

as you, we post lines 

and flickers to our tornaway tribes.  

Now the ether carries in bits

our sketchy sentences, our loneliness,

tears that this strange communication

without skin or breath can maybe begin to mend.

 

I wrote this years ago, when I first joined facebook. Now that I’ve deleted my account, I find  it intriguing that this was the original intent.