Lessons in prayer, from a dog

He assumes his still posture
two feet from the table.
He is not grabby,
his tongue is not hanging out,
he is quiet.

He wants to leap,
he wants to snap up
meat and blood.
You can tell.
But what he does is sit
as the gods
his masters and mistresses
fork steak and potatoes
into their mouths.

He is expectant
but not presumptuous.
He can wait.
He can live with disappointment.
He can abide frustration
and suffer suspense.

He watches
for signals,
he listens for calls
of his name from above.

At hints that
he may be gifted
with a morsel,
he intensifies his
already rapt concentration,
he looks his god
in the eye,
but humbly,
sure of his innocence
in his need,
if his need only.

On the (often rare) occasions
when gifts are laid on his tongue,
he takes them whole,
then instantly resumes
the posture of attention,
beseeching, listening, alert,
the posture of hard-won faith
that will take no for an answer,
yet ever and again hopefully
return to the questioning.

John the Baptist at a country tent meeting, Jesus comes

Can you tell me what to want now? I can’t
go on, no turning back. We’d sing, “Jesus
on the main line, tell him what you want. Just
call him up, tell him what you want, what you want.”
But these six months, they came to me, I tell you—
tire tracks and footsteps flattened the grass ’round
the green tent—my words made such sound
toward the crowd—they bent, repented. But I knew
I was nothing, I just stalled in the river’s flow.
I waited for you, tensed as a dog’s hind leg
crouching before bread crusts and melon rinds.
Miz Black yowls “Call him up, call him up now!”
But you’re here, and I’m blown, a cattail’s sag,
I am birds dispersed—pepper in the wind.

Flames like people

Thank you, Morgan, preschool prodigy of likenesses.
I hadn’t considered my propane heater
so closely, its hot imagery, how, as you declared that winter evening
in my kitchen, munching a chip two-handed
like a squirrel, the heater’s line of flames looks like people.
And as your younger sister Ella whirled
in pink britches around the kitchen singing flames like people,
people dancing, and as you grinned
at your own brilliance and the brilliant line of half-blue half-orange folk
you culled up with spark of thought
and vapor of breath, I saw them too, figures swinging hips
with whippy fervor to the beat of ignition.

Born seeking likenesses, each of us. We secure a simile,
like the wild Ella scooped and wrapped
in her father’s arms, let it burn to purer metaphor, let it cool
as we celebrate, as we praise our precocity.
Really, we praise the world, we delight in its many
wrought likenesses.

Stone work

I know the one I want when I find it.
Turning them over, like tortoises,
rubbing their ridged underbellies, their curves,
their pocked histories of love and grief,

I palm the one that speaks my other name,
the one whom I become this still moment,
lead-light, soft as chalk, right as spring
after weeks of needling sleet, the dumb tomb.

I run my tongue along its edges, taste
the sharp consonants, the gush of vowel,
the salt that grits the honest surface,
telling its years in the still pool of tears.

A stone in a heart made of sorrow,
a node in a kidney (gorgeous agony),
a missile thrown to break the martyr’s skull,
a stranger at the gates of the body’s love.

I press it down hard in the good dirt
next to the one I loved best yesterday,
assembling the poem, stone by sudden stone,
faithful as flesh to its house of bone.

Vinalhaven ferry, siren song

Disarming, really, this surging night-dark water.
A harbor seal slips, oil-black, into the sea’s
engulfing folds. On the ferry, three girls eat cherries,

slurp ruby juice from fruit, palm and finger,
linger over pulp. Those black, sea-skimming
cormorants dive into Atlantic waves,

then rise with hooked beaks full.
Three girls consume that succulent fruit,
spit brown pits into crimson hands, pluck plump

cherries from a red-soaked plastic bag.
Their mother leans upon a rail, enthralled
by thoughts of a crustacean mob at work

beneath the shuddering sea. The ferry sways
on night-dark swells, heaves toward
nuns and cans. Bare legs dangling

and rose-wet hair tangling, three girls ripen
hands in flesh, drizzle chins with wine.
A hidden ledge, a granite coast, a fierce,

a laughing tide. Beguiled by forgotten currents,
you cannot not imbibe—three girls, mouths
dripping cherry juice, foreheads scarlet-streaked,

tap feet and pluck again, beauty no excuse.