Poetry - June, 2011


Cloud cover

Chosen to be passed over by this wind
although I'm still inside, the hurricane
breaking down as it comes ashore, I pray
next time I'll find my way to pray again!
I may not. Given fair weather I drift
as clouds, my favorite image, scud the sky,
taking on light's fanciful images
and poems I write from extremity
drift off like yesterday slipping away.

But where? Prayer flies off into the storm's eye
there to direct the wind or dissipate
as the divine writes us or does not write.



Even before D Day
and the great emptying out
of England's fields and hedgerows
—one vast and camouflaged parking lot—
onto the harrowed beaches of the French,
even before those daily tidal waves of bombers
bearing east about sunset to deliver our turn,
even after the buzz-bombs, doodlebugs—
names to tame them into toys they never were—
came skittering across out skies in random hate,
cigar ends glowing frightful in the dark,
Mum and Dad decided that the cold and earthy damp
of our backyard Anderson shelter posed more risk
than the odd incendiary bomb. When the warning
sounded from the factory roof they would bed us down
beneath the tough oak table round which we ate our meals,
wrote letters, diaries, drew and painted, did the homework
we brought back from school—still sandbagged from
the big one landing in the lower playground.
It was the closest Dick and I came
to a camping trip those confined cautionary years
and whatever fears still lingered lay concealed beneath
the tangled maze of bedclothes, pillows, table legs.
"Is that the all-clear, Daddy?" we would ask
of that second wailing siren, far later in the night,
reassured and yet reluctant, somehow,
to forsake the secret shelter of our cozy bivouac.
Then back upstairs to bed,
dread now, if not dissolved, deferred at least
until some deeper, even darker night to come.


Three for the body


All those sermons about the seductions
of the flesh. Spiritual life, the elders said.
But who could hear it without the intricate

cochlea and hammer, or the wondrous
muscles of lips and face to form the words?
I sat supported by a spine balancing

my head, heart muscle pulsing—home
for the mind, according to the Hebrews,
nest of bowels cradling my emotions.


In the Book of Kells the Incarnation
Initial swells with bodies, elaborate
swirls around humans and animals—

cats, rats, moths, and angels sharing
equal space. See the harmony, and how
the borders are pressed by fecundity,

how nothing is fixed, the top curve
of the Initial having burst open, fragrance
of lilies announcing the outpour.


Body as temple, the apostle declares.
All around, the courtyards of clamor,
our appetites and aches crowding the doors

while inside, the table shimmers.
I saw it first in my parents' faces
and in the glare of sunlit snow.

Beyond the striving and failures, the quiet
center waiting, curtains parted for entry,
our body's hunger to be known.


The Flying Eagle Patrol

In the high summer of my thirteenth year on this lovely planet
I was mailed to Boy Scout summer camp in a sprawling forest
For a life term, though I guess it was really only fourteen days.
I was muddled at woodcraft as I was at everything else then,
And finished very nearly last in tracking, swimming, canoeing,
Archery, and orienteering, this last an utter conundrum for me;
I recall my patrolmates finally gently taking away my compass
And asking me to just sit quietly until they would lead me back
To our camp, my spectacles knocked awry by jeering branches.
I remember when we got our orienteering assignment someone
Would lead me to a little open knoll in the rippling sea of pines
And oaks and maples and I would sit there happily in the broad
Sun for hours, I guess, watching for birds and speculating about
Lunch. I wonder now that the Flying Eagle Patrol was so gentle
To me, its most useless member, and these were the years when
Boys are cruel to each other, for fear of being least and weakest;
But they were kind, and I remember their totally genuine delight
When I earned my single merit badge, for making both a roaring
Fire and a stew. I remember their faces, around that startling fire,
How they laughed—not at me for having finally done something
Well, but at the surprise of it; the gift of unexpectedness, perhaps.
Or maybe they were smiling at my probably hair-raising stew; but
They ate every scrap of it, and the one among us who was best in
The woods was the Eagle who quietly washed the pots and plates.
Perhaps, all these years later, I should remember my helplessness,
And either chew my liver or try to smile ruefully, but it's the pots
Clean as a whistle that I remember, and the whistling of the Eagle
Coming to retrieve me from my knoll high above the seas of trees.


Im Friedhof

Dietlikon, Switzerland

In your black coat I walk into June heat.
You take a dark bird's shape and fly away.
I see your ghost, but it does not see me.

The recently bereaved are hard to please.
I didn't make your bed or your mistakes.
In your black coat I walk into June heat.

A phantom bone that haunts its amputee,
of all my specters, you are most awake.
I see your ghost, but it does not see me.

I pilfer through these memories like a thief.
But maybe all's not lost. Some's just misplaced.
In your black coat I walk into June heat

And I keen once more for your mortal hands beneath
What gravid fabrics other fingers braid.
I see your ghost, but it does not see me.

So I sail, half-masted, through the ghastly sea
Of these wasted, assailing lovers, loss and fate.
In your black coat I walked into June heat.
I did not leave your ghost. But it left me.