And The Bird On The Wing

Though swallows promenade about the barn
in shaker reels I track them each by each
to guess their names and grandma’s names
and memorize their iridescent oddities
of feathers.  Top, they wear the sober gray
of Oxford dons but underneath they flash
like dancehall tarts.  It is a country pomp.

I’d bring you here to stare.  Your stillness
at the swallows’  ball would be my Christmas gift
to you.   You either get it or you don’t.   If not,
then I would tell you straight how much I love them.

If God does not exist, the birds invent Him:

He knitted figured swans into His temple silks
where mortal eyes were never cleared to look.

He hemmed His levites’ robes around about
with woven pomegranates, for no cause.

He frets a kid might boil in mother’s milk
or oxen spend a sabbath in a ditch.

He doodles in the margins of His book
things high and low:  the sweetness of His laws;
the date when I shall die; a running count
of berries bagged and labelled with the year.

I’d lift with fingertips these lads and ladies
from beneath the January snow into my house
of many mansions, seat them at high windows
with gay covers on their laps and bring them meals
then fly them back to join their nesting mothers
in the Kingdom of the Just.

If it were not so, I would have told you.

My Resumé

I’ve talked of poetry beneath the summer stars.
I had a Form to take my pen.

I heard the Holy Ghost correct my spelling,
heard Him recommend Dante.

I have known the operation of the Blood of Christ
in conversation, at the kitchen table.
And I saw the sword protruding from the preacher’s mouth.

I’ve painted July suns in cerulean streams:
the colors all were water;
the brush, Kolinsky sable;
the paper, pressed by hand.

I smiled some simple smiles with noble women,
and a noble man, and children.

I have managed, on occasion, to live only by the mercy of a brother.

I’ve failed abjectly, and began again. And failed again. Began again.

I can clarify your thoughts.
I can confess my faults, and will append that list if you desire.

Spring Hill Cemetery

1.

Walking on this hill of graves and trees
I find the stone of Talitha beside the church
now only used to mark the spring’s return
of jonquils from the underworld. I stop to see
her stone beside her mom’s,  on no-one’s map.
What bells that baby girl could surely laugh.

2.

A hundred-forty Easters since that war
spilled horses, cannon-deaf, upon our flowered town
and as she softly sang they simply rode her down.
Her blue eyes caked with dirt though never dewed
by love. Her ribbons tangled in the hooves
till opalescent pink died southern gray.

3.

What coquetries that girl will never play.
What precious blood she coughed as momma plied
her pleas into the jesus clouds, to stay.
No comforts could she ever take again
for Talitha is not. On these green heights
she wept grave-side into our modern nights.

4.

She tried her hymns of Jesus’ love, she tried
dear dying lamb thy precious blood, she tried
till all the ransomed church of God, she tried
around His pierced feet. She tried fair flow’rs
of paradise extend their fragrance sweet.
And what can make us whole again. She tried

5.

but hymns were trampled under hymns brand-new
of gospels writ in burnished rows of steel
by fateful lightenings, watch fires, flaring lamps
and swords so terrible they even kill
the symbols. “Girl, I’d trade America for you.”
Our souls are laid among the evening damps and dews.

6.

“I’ll never birth unneeded things no more
to throw among the bosons bumping in the void
like horses red and randomed in a war.
Her blood united me with all the occamed world
in one credo, which in her end I swore:
Don’t ever birth unneeded things no more.”

7.

I tried the hymns, but in the end I’ll go with blood.
The function of our cities is to not say “blood”.
But in our queen, our whore, in her is found the blood.
Beneath my feet I can’t not press the blood
unfleshed, unflowered yet, unreckoned blood
in logics yet unmeshed until they graph the blood
yet saved or damned by how they weight the blood
yet dignified by how they sing the blood.

8.

O what can make us whole again.

9.

The next of Jesus’ songs will split our homes,
erase that mona lisa from the moon’s white face
and startle straight the desultory flights of bats.
No more, this chapel, no, no more,
and no, no shovels chinking at the grave
nor April rains into the night. No night.
The next of Jesus’ songs will bugle dead
and they, in row on row, both blue and gray
will muster to the little girls, away
to courts of reckoning for all the bloods
of time. A river in a golden street.
Be sharp, my soul; be jubilant, my feet.
“Little girl, get up.  Now let her eat.”

Will You Be Planting Dahlias?

Yes, you are in my bones,
as matrix for the matrix of my marrow
and my cells are busy building on your scaffold
there where bloods are born.

On certain autumn midnights I would ride
my dreams against your sleep.
You localized my life, assured yourself that I was fine,
then turned upon your side.

But now you stir my dreams.
At dawn I hear the mother robins wake and search.
I turn and turn again but matrix of my marrow
has become a womb too deep.

Say, are you planting dahlias
by the walk this spring, again?
And is there room that I could nudge your side
or hold your garden gloves?

Moonseed, Ampelopsis, Possumgrape

1.

The sun withdraws its tide of liquid gold
along the goldenrod, the sumac fronds
by now November red (think blood, weeks old)
and up the sharp-as-switches willow wands.
Against the Appalachian dusk the gnats
are lit like photon swarms above the ponds.
My father parts the weeds to squint at slats
beneath — the fence, perhaps? The trellis for the rose?
He starts, and glances up at early bats
who skim the photon eddies; how well he knows
the speed of dark between these hills, how well…
his mother made that trellis for her wedding rose.

2.

How well she trained her climbing rose to smell
the bedroom up when August winds caress
long linen curtains. Her trellis finally fell,
between the sucking humus and the seasons’ press
which squeezes dwellings like a caliper
for rot. Her room? A patch of wintercress.
Her house grew down, it shapes a catacomb
for moonseed, ampelopsis, possum-grape:
such guileless vines, who tried to stay at home
for years but since their sad escape
push feelers through the hardwood boards,
beyond the handmade joints, into the crawlspace.

3.

A hundred paces past the lost backdoor
my feet sink deep but never touch the earth
in honeysuckle thicker than I’ve seen before;
we search and find the cellar where she turned
the labels front and pulled old jellies out
before my birth, before my father’s birth.
Step slowly, dad, because the night’s knee deep
along these heirloom paths the rabbits keep.
Your mother, you remember her and sigh
and kick the leaves for having died, but I
was five that night and so can just recall
the lights, her open coffin in the whispering hall,
the chocolate fudge, that bruise above her eye.

4.

I’ve tried it, too, that tired lament at time:
“This glade, where sprang the laughter of the bride
and groom, the clang of supper bells, the chime
of whippoorwills — how it’s become a meal
for fetid, silent moulds, a chamber-pot
for any vagrant bird.” I’ve made appeal
to God-who-makes-things-right, that He would not
forget forgotten artifacts of care.
But this is magic, and not prayer.
Not time, not God — whoever rues the weeds
would be the missing gardener. The missing seeds?
The skill she gave your hands that certain day
she trained the rose in May, that certain way
she turned her blade to turn the canes: from knife
to every tool, to every act, to life.
Without such times her life won’t stay.
Without such lines your face just fades.

5.

You are tradition. But all memory dies
the way the valley yellows and the milkweed flies.
So don’t begin to sorrow and to say:
“who’ll bring her down, who’ll bring her back again?”
She is tradition, she is in your hand.
So give me what she gave you on a certain day.
Or sing me songs she heard at dark
when crickets in the creekbed start;
I hear them tick rabbinic lists till dawn
demands they rest. Remembering on and on
their numbers drum a drone in time, but flat:
“So let us not forget, begat, begat,
and let us not forget, begat, begat,
begat, begat.” And missing none.
Are they good sons?

6.

Please give me what you made from her a certain day;
I give you what I made from you – – just let me say,
again, my “…moonseed, ampelopsis, possum-grape…” – –
Oh, listen, dad! The plants have names as bright
as any bloom, as hatched as cones, as slight
as clover or as dank as loam. You grew in me
such playing in the sounds of things when we
explored old woods, when you’d recite the name
of some twined vine and I’d repeat the same
like fun, sly rhyme. Father, I have played
among the lovely sounds and I have made
a thing, I made a thing, I closed our game.

7.

The sun has found the hill and you are old.
Let’s start again; just show me how you hold
your knife, just so; then long beyond your night
of whispers in the hall, and fudge, and light
(no bruise above your placid eye) I’ll see
your youth in my lithe hand. You’ll be
the way I turn the blade, how hard I hone,
that certain circle I describe on stone.

I’ll not remember you,
I’ll not need to.

Risen, Indeed: An Easter Reading For All

An Easter Responsive Reading.

R = Reader
C = Congregation

R: They laid him where?
C: He is not here, come look.
R: But have you seen the Lord?
C: And we have seen the Lord.
R: Is He alive?
C: He walked the road with us.
R: But did He speak?
C: He spoke and burned our hearts.
R: But did He stay with you?
C: And ate with us till dusk.
R: But did you touch His wounds?
C: O you of tiny faith.
R: I need to see.
C: Why stand you gazing up?  He comes again.
R: He comes again?
C: And comes just like He left.
R: But what till then?
C: He breathes in us His Breath.
R: Who is this King within?
C: Jesus Christ.
R: He is the King of Glory?
C: Jesus, Lord.
R: O sea, give up your dead!
C: O hell, your gates are split.
R: O grave, where is your sting?
C: No sting.
R: O death, where is your win?
C: No death.
R: No death?
C: The dead in Christ rise first; they sleep.
R: Ah, yes.  But who will wake them up?
C: “Lazarus, come forth!”
R: That voice! It is the Lord!
C: “Little girl, wake up.”
R: But what if I should sleep?
C: “My sheep will hear my voice.”
R: But what of me?
C: “Do you love Me?”
R: I love You more than life.
C: “Then feed my sheep.”
R: I will.
C: We will.