When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe. —Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
We know these columns, this pediment, angels and sages serene as stone stand at attention, embodiment of past grandeur, for this we’ve come, to see the marble men and maids, the attic shape, the heifer’s march, the ancient truth that met Keats’ gaze and fired his poems that light the dark
knowledge of our mortal being, sing the song of fleeting time, the static creatures we are seeing live and breathe in his sweet lines. The poem endures, though Keats is dust. All remains unchanged but us.
The still pilgrim climbs the Mountain of God. She somehow has not lost her way. Her feet find the prints where they have trod. The sun feels less heavy today. She holds him in her wind-chapped hands. She shoulders him like a child. She hoops him along the basalt sand. She heaves him high against the sky where he gilds the field gold. The pilgrim watches his slow rise— She loves the shadow show he throws— salutes the blue and shades her eyes and turns her back and goes.
Blessed sleep and the long call of light. The morning a mercy of birds. Returned from the black hole of being, she finds all as she left it last night. The chairs askew, the table crumbs, the dishes stacked up in the sink. Yesterday’s dress tossed across the bed. It’s enough to make her think
of how the world just waits for us attending to its nightly song, of how we breathe in time with it and rise again with each new dawn, of how we bear the miracle and find ourselves where we belong.
It’s Mother’s Day and I have no mother. She left and took my daughterhood. It’s hard to lose us both, recover. A double grief. A day to brood.
I dredge the chops. Fry them in oil. I slice the onion, wet as tears. I wear my sackcloth apron, soiled by meals I’ve made for thirty years.
For ashes, flour upon my head. For prayers, the rise of scented smoke. My mother, who is five years dead, lives in this meat, these eggs I broke, this dish she taught me how to make, this wine I drink, this bread I break.
Life smooths us, perfects as does the river the stone, and there is no place our Beloved is not flowing, though the current’s force you may not like. —St. Teresa of Ávila
This rounding roughs us even as it smooths, the force of God’s water strong, tumbles the small stones even as it soothes and carries them lightly along, The rain falls full and fills the streams. The river drinks their love. The trees bend heavy with dreams. There’s nothing that does not move.
Borne along by fire and flood, by wind that tongues and grooves, our bodies brimmed with blood that feeds us as it proves perfection is no steady state. It’s on the way and always late.
There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world could contain the books that would be written. —John 21:24–25
He cried when he slid out, a slippery fish, his mortal lungs unready for the rush. He took his mother’s breast like a starved kid. He craved meat young, forced his fist in the dish. He tottered to his feet when he was one, and brought his father to his eager knees. He learned to walk, but never learned to run. He napped, read books, talked to the trees. When he turned twelve, he fell in love with fire. He’d light his torches underneath the stars, heave them towards the lights in the night sky mapping the distance, counting the hours. He studied the sun as it rose and fell. He envied it, but did not tell.
I have met them in the Uffizi the angel hunched on bended knee— his thigh thick beneath his satin robe— the virgin’s urgent contrapposto her sudden arm extended long beyond the border of her cape halting his rehearsed song as if his theme weren’t love but rape.
Her face impossibly serene does not betray her body’s fear. His deathless eyes have never seen a mortal woman quite so near. The space between their outstretched hands salvation in a single glance.
in the brambles and in the brush, in the long shadows on the long street, in the creases of the faces that I greet. Dryad of my back yard, Apollo of my morning, bell tones hefted heavenward, musk of hardwood burning, my wild hand that guides the pen, my tame heart that wilds when all cries Christ! and Christ! again. O beauty, O fast friend, your touch upon my parchment skin, youngs it new. The year begins.
He spoke to you in blue, in the long call of light from the top of a Tuscan hill. Your hand answered, the quick sketch of a girl taking shape before you knew she was you, head uplifted, her angelful eyes sure of what they see: being bodied true as the stilled wings, the beatified sky. What words might have passed have passed as air sighed by the soul in the act of rapture. Now there is only ochre and thin-skinned cream, struck gold against the garden’s sudden green, forever as present as it once seemed, her hands crossed soft against her hidden fear and angel’s breath still warm within your ear.
So there she stood alone amid a stillness as loud as any earthquake she had heard, the eaves creaking in the absence of wind, the hiss and tick of radiators warming the house along with a soon-coming sun. Her hands touch her belly, swelling already like dough cupped close in an earthen bowl. She knows it won’t be long before she shows. What to do with all this sudden silence? Phone her boyfriend: Joseph, I have news! E-mail St. Anne: Dear Mother, I’m afraid. Drop to her knees, now weak with recognition and kiss the space he filled a moment past in answer to the question he had asked.
How did he do it? Open those good hands, spread his five fingers wide to receive the blunt nails? Hear the crack of bone, delicate wingwork of phalanx and carpal? Hang the weight of his whole self from those soft clay doves and trust them to hold? To hold?
They flutter light. Brush against the good wood. His mother’s eye catches, watches as she used to watch beside her dreaming child those white birds of paradise gently reach for some thing lost, some thing left behind, a kingdom he saw about to come.
He knit him self up, a cable-stitch of skin. Pushed his left eye in its socket, then his right. Cracked the knuckles in his fingers (now so thin!). Raised him self from the dirt and stood up right.
Lazarus, Lazarus, don’t get dizzy. Lazarus, Lazarus, now get busy. Mary’s weeping, Martha’s made a cake, Jesus is calling at the graveyard gate. Your closest cousin, happy you are dead, Eyes Martha’s sheep and Mary’s empty bed.
He licks his lips and wags his muscled tongue. Flexes each foot till the warm blood comes. Turns from the darkness and moves toward the sun. A step. A shamble. A dead-out run.
Now forty winters have besieged this brow that bears the mark of ashes once again, its shallow furrows yielding to time’s plow as, on command, I turn and turn again. With every year the mark goes deeper still and stays there longer than the year before, reminding me, despite my flesh’s will, there comes a spring when I’ll be marked no more.
Yet still I bow and part my graying hair to make way for the dust that makes us all, the mortal touch, the cross traced in the air, the voice that tells me to regard the fall that each of us must know before we rise and raise unwrinkled brows to greet God’s eyes.