FIRST LIGHT

~in astronomy, the first use of a telescope

1.

A wall is not a bad thing

when one is ten years old and afraid.

Imagination is a good wall:

the goddesses of ancient Greece,

the stories in the stars, the fairies

living under the grasses and in the trees.

And girls in books,

their strength like stone:

Jo and Meg, Velvet Brown, Anne.

 

God makes a good wall, the sturdy one

I met at St. Luke’s, who spoke Elizabethan

in Father Pickard’s imitation British,

who smiled down on pious children.

Hymns made a sure foundation, 

the blue choir robe a kind of armor. 

And when one came of age,

the flat dissolve of the wafer, 

the strange warmth of wine.

 

2. 

Hadrian built this wall 

to keep wild blue people out. 

On our side, sanitation, hot baths,

birthday parties and socks.

On their side, the gods only know.

Dirt-floored huts, animal skins,

raw meat eaten with the hands?

Superstition. Barbaric sacrifices.

Look over the wall, if you dare.

What is hiding behind those stones?

 

3. 

Shall I list the things I fear,

what the walls keep out?

If I give them names,

will that give me power?

Can I clothe them,

give them form,

and seeing their weaknesses,

laugh them into oblivion?

Are they nothing 

but shadows after all?

Bears under the bed?

Barbarians painted blue?

 

4.

Sixty years ago

I could not stand

in front of Mother and say

Daddy is drunk and I hate it.

I’m going out into the field

to pull myself together

and then I’ll come back

and get on with my life.

I want you and Daddy

to solve this. 

Without my help.

 

5.

When my little grandson is afraid,

I can tell him:

This is what’s happening.

This will happen.

The mower is noisy

but we’re safe if we stand here.

The big truck will drive away.

The bird will not bite you.

Mommy will come back.

The shot will hurt and then

the hurt will stop. 

 

I can tell myself:

This story is mine.

The barbarians

are my grandmothers.

Nothing lasts forever.

I can open any door.

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TRANSFIGURATION

TRANSFIGURATION

 

We knew the answers then, 

how it could be. Remember

that the old folks mostly hung back,

looked on kindly and amused. 

They knew as I know now

that everything would pass 

like those flickers on a cave wall. 

The community would shrink

and scatter. Ambition, death,

families—would do what they do. 

We’d wake up, sad, 

because the good dream was over.

We’d come down the mountain

twisting our ankles, sliding on scree,

bumping our heads on low branches. 

We’d be bitten by ticks and bears.

And after awhile, like those old 

mountaineers who went before,

we’d arrive at home,

sweep out our houses, 

get back to work.

Heat

 

HEAT

Heat eats time. Heat sits, placid 

monster, pale and bloated,

a vapid balloon across the land,

filling its maw with hours, 

ambitions, appetites,  joys.

It knocks birds from the sky,

cats from their windowsills.

Gardens sprout thermophilic

weeds and nobody cares.

No one can swim in the lake scum.

All the fans have broken.

 

Fighting is futile.

any knight who dares apprach

falls stuporous and weighted down.

 

Remember the cold?

Once upon a time 

it stretched its fine boned hands

over us, and what did we do then 

but whine?

Never again, we cry. 

O never again will we complain 

of its kind and gentle blue-frost smile.

June 21st

JUNE 21st

 

They say it’s to be the longest day, but

how shall we know with the sun again

behind clouds thick as oceans. Down 

here like denizens of the deep we’re 

losing our eyes and growing weird 

appendages. Luminous lures spring

from our foreheads. Wind waves dark

fronds of weeds over our heads.

It might as well be the longest night.

We take what nourishment we can.

THE DELPHIC ORACLE

THE DELPHIC ORACLE

~Mary Pratt, (Pre Raphaelite Sisterhood, 1848)

 

Smoke rises before the girl 

seated on her three-legged stool. 

Behind her, the cave mouth

shades into a purple dark.

 

The supplicant stands

like a pillar, her robes

still as sculpture.

Keep looking.

 

Smoke mingles

with thin cloud in the pale

sky, shaping horses.

Keep looking.

 

The supplicant’s arms are rising

toward the heavens.  Listen.

Between the sky and the cave,

the oracle has begun to speak.

PSYCHE

PSYCHE

All right, the wind. Breath

of gods, spirits of—

the dead. essences invisible, 

 

lives of rocks and soils. 

What woods and barks and

mosses and grasses give

 

as they respire,

and asphalt and the milk

trucks and logging trucks

 

passing down the road 

at sunrise, and the sun,

above all.

 

After the night wind,

the morning breathing

of the sun.

I HAVE FOUND MY CARAVAN

I HAVE FOUND MY CARAVAN

. . . someone untied your camel last night

For I hear its gentle voice

Calling for God in the desert.

~Hafiz, trans. Daniel  Ladinsky

The camel loosed herself.

She ran off alone,

early in the morning

before I rose to load her

with the burdens of my day.

She was running free

between the dunes

as the Milky Way

faded into the silver of dawn.

When I whistled, she came,

docile, but with the wild gleam

of starlight deep

in her long-lashed eyes.