I’m watching a wall of fast moving
grey-blue clouds turn into a door
the sun walks through
on this windy 29th day of October.
It walks down the yellowing hillside
and right up to a pair of scrub locusts,
which seem of no importance at all
and yet, wired up with bittersweet’s
red and yellow, seem just now to be
electrified by the light that just keeps coming,
crossing the street, extending itself
until I am standing in it as well,
the skin on my face growing warmer;
I close my eyes and then, as if I had been
sleeping in a strange place, let the light
wake me and tell me where I am.
On the Way to Cold Mountain
An hour ago, wind cleaning up
the remaining stale air
a cold front pushed back south,
the morning all sunshine
and breeze, I was singing
Simon and Garfunkel,
and slowing down, making
the morning last, grinning
like an idiot, crazy with
the wild exchange of sunlight
and green leaves taking place
in the lilac. The sweet scent
of Rambling Roses preceded
the thought of roses, and you
came to mind, Han Shan,
saying , Be happy if there’s something
to be happy about, and there was.
I was happy about the day,
and, going inside, the beautiful
old room I could sit in,
the black tea with milk
I drank from my favorite mug.
I should have put up a sign—
No Philosophizing Today—
and just lain down on the rug
like my dog turning once, twice,
and then curling in on herself.
You also said, when the moment
comes, do not lose it. But I did,
of course, the offhand thought
of a neighbor coming to mind
who, at this very moment,
could be hearing the voices
he can’t get out of his head,
and then of the people in every city
undergoing some undeserved
madness, and of how, if asked
by any one of them to give up
my life for theirs, I could not.
O Han Shan, I know happiness
doesn’t need to be deserved,
and, believe me, I exult (even,
at times, to tears) over birdsong,
green grass, the great banquet
of light out my window, but tell me,
is there something more than this,
something more than moments
of light coming apart, turning
to ash in our mouths as we sing?
Might'ier than the sword;
Bear your word sincere.
Justify the unwrit page;
Birth meaning beyond thought.
Prophesy! oh pen.
Mid-wife labored truth;
Deliver word incarnate
Creative and pure.
Madness comes descending--black, whispering,
summoning Soul to never ending night.
Chanting epithets, sweet sleep deterring,
mocking Sanity's cost with sick delight.
Haunted, Heart holds the spirits of the dead;
Innocence. Trust and Peace in sabbath-rest.
Oh, what price to pay! Hope exchanged for dread...
But Love, unceasing, knows Heart's grief the best.
Night's minion fights, its goal to ruinate.
Silent thought, time's Fool, compounds care-killed gloom.
Wounded, Heart and Love be (yet obstinate)
They bear it, even to the edge of doom.
So Heart and Love are still the best defense--
They pay the price of Sanity's expense.
I’ve just read that when we die,
One thing will put on another—
The perishable the imperishable,
The mortal the immortal—one
Thing putting on its opposite,
Continuity in discontinuity. I sigh.
I begin to think about coats. Hats.
Putting on. Adding. So death isn’t less?
I don’t know why my poems keep
Arriving where things vanish.
I don’t know why an apple, once
Opened, can never be closed again.
Yesterday, in a long row, I planted seeds
That look nothing like sweet peas at their
June flowering. And we shall be changed.
I know a man who is dying. Slowly.
I know, too, two plum trees who are
Dying and blossoming, at the same time.
I have come to the edge of nothing.
The sky dismantles itself. Clouds do
What clouds do—gather themselves
Until there is water enough to fall softly
Into the arms of my roses. This silence
Does not demand light instead of darkness.
This silence sits in the mystery of a field
And waits for the dead to speak their secrets.
And how is it nothing brings me everything?
Is this the resurrection of the dead?
I see the first crocus giving its life away—
The rivers turned into their own kind of singing.
While in St. Peter’s, Rome*
I think the world
is like the feet of the Pieta
and shines out of the dark arches only
when touched by hands that believe in it.
I think that when the feet
are worn away by touch,
people will climb up the body of Christ
until he’s worn onto a world of hands,
a shining marble dust,
and then the night’s white, worn pearl,
river stone moon Mary will smile,
and we’ll all be home.
*Michelangelo’s Pieta is a marble sculpture of Mary holding Jesus after
the crucifixion. It stands within a giant cathedral. For five hundred
years believers on pilgrimage could reach just high enough to touch
Jesus’ feet for a blessing. This reverent touch wore them down like
stone stairs in old building
Visiting the Poetry Pole with Linda
after being evacuated from Holden Village:
A Poem for Jim and Karen
“They’re still our kids, but they’re not
in the pictures anymore,” says Linda,
frowning at her camera. We’ve crossed
water together seven times, come through fire
twice—one a kind of dying, the other
a promise of life too hot and blinding
to believe. Yesterday we looked flames
in the face, leaving the village we love.
Smelling of smoke we’ve reached this corner
where poems grow tall as roses, some lines
so bleached by sun and sprinklers
have to squint to read them. Linda squints,
too, taking the snapshot that says where we’ve been
and in whose company. These poems chart
what photos cannot say: what it’s like to hear
your skirt-chasing dad call you mi’ja; what it means
to stand all alone in Othello, pumping gas.
What this poem has to say is how it feels
to watch our children light the match themselves,
not just tiring of childhood, but torching it,
scrapbooks, trinkets, toys—everything is fuel.
This side of fire is fear; the other, clarity.
Beyond the blackened stumps the view
goes on forever. The forest is burning.
The only way is through.
Back in answer land,
white blindingly bright –
Catholic or Lutheran:
we Lutherans right.
holds me up
are swimming, too