Poetry

Poetry

Baptism by Rembrandt's prints

His fascination with light begins
in a lantern held by a shepherd,
over a little family against inky velvet.
Then light shifts; Christ becomes core.
When he preaches rays fall like song on
some earnest, captivated faces, some
distracted by other conversations,
and a dog facing the wrong way.

From his raised hand light spills
like waterfall over Lazarus and
lifts him, pale and twisted
into that luminous aura.
Even on the cross, the thin
etched lines leave an ivory
bowl around him, gather
from dimness the only dawn.

The limp corpse with extended
ribs still radiates. Its slide starts
at a peasant face, guided into arms
that catch the contagious light,
leaking onto the stocky official,
plumply supervising procedures.
Visual poems carved on copperplate:
I stood rinsed in that light.



Candles waking

When I get up in the night to stifle
a cough with hot tea, and make my way
through the black terrain of the dining room,

there are candles waking in the dark,
open eyes that never sleep:
the blue glow of digital minutes

winking under the television,
the coffee maker, the microwave.
A laptop beams its single pulse,

and the mouse beside it arches
over the red flame of a beating heart.
The rat scratching away in the attic

suddenly seems superfluous,
the stars outside the sliding door
a vestigial redundancy.

When I wake in the night and cross
to the greening numerals upon the stove,
I voyage within my own fixed sphere,

my lonely festival of lights.











Millipede

Holy Spirit: do not descend as a dove.
Better to return as a millipede hidden
beneath decaying bark than anything
that can soar. Ponder the incarnational
worth of Pneumodesmus Newmani,
the oldest known form of life on land,
linking air breathing with the surname
of the Scottish bus driver and amateur
paleontologist who chiseled its fossil
from harbor rocks north of Stonehaven,
observing through his field lens small
openings in its exoskeleton used
for inspiration, meaning it moved its
many legs on dry ground, not seabed.
Or consider this descendent of Pneumo,
younger by four hundred million years,
curled for self-preservation on my palm,
a hard button of red legs whorled inward,
circled by dark armor plate, both of us
breathing air while we wait for a sign
that it is safe to resume whatever it was
we were scurrying to do prior to this
disruption of our forward flow to make
a theological point: Of what use are
metaphors of flight for things with feet?

Creek-side prayer

By the rusty bridge-rail
over a creek where red-winged
blackbirds congregated on cattails,
my grandfather cut the engine
every Sunday morning
to hear bullfrogs pour a chorus.

Clad in his gray suit
with the starched, plain collar,
he’d take a long swig
from the jug of a morning
so robust it swelled
to the sky’s broad rim.

His daughters prodded him
to hurry, but the psalm
that moved him to prayer
rose from a wayward creek
the color of molasses,
it came from a country
so warm it made him shiver.



Dispute with Thomas Hardy

                        The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
                        Alive enough to have the strength to die.
                                                                                —“Neutral Tones”
                                                                                      (Psalm 72))

It won’t last long, this snow that sheathes
                        the dooryard pine in April and lays
its feckless cover on the slope behind.
                        Crocuses, just tall enough,
poke their small blue noses through.
                        It’s clear that they’re alive enough to live.
April’s gale is loud as bombers.
                        What’s left of ice around the pond
in town is rough as predators’ teeth.
                        The fisher fells the luckless squirrel.

There’s much I too may try to cover.
                        For all of that I feel a gladness
in watching this omni-inclusive white
                        blot out the neutral tones that pushed
our brilliant poet to ponder death,
                        and love’s deceit, its cruelty.
We’ve been together, my love and I,
                        near three decades, which have scudded by
like these sideways flakes. My lover-wife.
                        There can come pangs, but the freshets have started

to wander the brush and make their signs:
                        soon we’ll find the trillium,
the painted kind, in that secret place
                        which I discovered springs ago,
and which since then I’ve kept a secret
                        from all but her—from even our children;
and the valley’s white-faced Herefords,
                        while winter endured, dropped new calves,
which now, though mud clots up like blood,
                        shine clean as a man’s most colorful dream.

What is this one’s dream? That life go on
                        as ever. That all our lives go on.
No more than dream, of course. I know,
                        the planet heating up, the cretin
politicians waving swords,
                        as if, by counter-logic, war
might transform earth into something more saintly.
                        So many hard facts conspire against me.
To know that, though, is to make me cling
                        the harder to gifts that appear to be given

without my having to deserve them.
                        Flowers, beasts, the glinting trees.
My disposition, which has moved me here
                        to mute dispute with my great better,
in spite of all my darker doubt.
                        Inkling that something will soon come down
like rain upon the mown grass, as showers
                        that water the earth. Let us praise the Lord,
and every weather. Or the smile on the mouth
                        of my lover, which still can blind like snow.

Or the road agent waving from his bright-red plow
                        as it smooths the mud-clotted back lanes over.