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  • A Poem from Wisconsin in February
    August 30, 2012
         
    Wautoma, Wisconsin
    After Dylan Thomas and in reply
    Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
              Time held me green and dying
         Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
                             – Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill”
    Now as I was grown still and silent under the pine boughs
    All scattered round the whitened lake froze solid,
         The morning cracking open in sheets,
              Time knew our contract
         And would not shrink or swell,
    And I was long humbled among the curb and pavement crowds
    And a servant of the curves and turns which rapid
              Hide the purpose of the streets
         Behind the woody columns of the dell,

    And as I was minister of pine straw and gold
    In the cabin-wood and mute as the earth was firm
         In the sun that lights the ice,
              Time kept the dying beat
         With mighty hand to the drum,
    And I was sexton of dust and leaf and fragment;
    Lullaby and eulogy brought down the birds of God
              To hear the sabbath turning
         In its sleep within my lungs.

    All the ocean-night had the ancient hosts
    Of spheres enwrapped a wandering world, and wet
         And sailing in severe curves
              I had raced maps
         To lie to all things.
    Long as sun-sky and soon as shorelines,
    Swept, those spirits, the ground beneath my knees
         And stilled the earth
              In a coda of wings.

    Then to awake and know the morning, pledged and kept
    And far like an unfamiliar inheritance. I was Adam
         And, charged to give truth
              To each creature,
         Would name all names
    And ask forgiveness of every thing that lifts its gift
    Before it in procession, stepping silent in white robes
         To the even pulse
              That pulls each one the same.

    And standing priest before the sylvan congregation
    I chanted the rite that guides this dying march,
         With Time, who marks the steps
              Until his cadence ends
         And he counts no more.
    And nothing do I not mourn of nights that I had fled
    The rigid rhythms of Time by running to his tempo,
         Impuissant to make an escape,
              When by fear he was my lord.

    Nothing do I not mourn of when I did not heed his beat
    Those days I thought he was my master, Time
         Who cannot bind me to what I embrace
              Who cannot master any
         Whom he does not bind.
    Yes, perhaps now I sing in my chains like the sea,
    But they will burst asunder in the morning chorus,
              And then I will sing
         Like the very earth itself.



    Ash Wednesday Ekphrastic Collaboration
    February 22, 2012

    I contributed a poem to an Ash Wednesday project for Church of the Resurrection. Ekphrastic art is art which seeks to express anew or reflect upon another work of art. In this project, three artists reflected on Van Gogh’s Pieta, shown here. I wrote a poem, Tiffany Brenneman wrote a reflection, and Anna Quistad responded visually in acryllic. Go and have a look at it here.



    A Revision
    February 14, 2012

    A February 2012 revision of a poem from September 2007.

    Words

    which old, dead greek said
    that the soul arises from the blood of man?

    if the thousands of vessels
    running to and from the left side of this chest,
    and tunneling through this human body
    (which i obstinately call mine)
    were opened to spill their burden upon
    the ground,
    it would be words
    and not blood
    that would mix with the dirt,
    that would pool up at the edge of a root
    and then spill over and mix,
    sticky and congealed,
    with the dirt and the smell
    in the ditch across the road.

    the tongues of angels
    in the ditch by the road.

    and here i sit
    at a busy street corner,
    picturing it happening.
    my vision wanders
    past the edge
    of the old journals
    i have been reading,
    hoping,
    no, praying
    to find entries
    of concise,
    (forgotten)
    confession,
    which do not
    exist.
    a prophecy, like:
    “june 11, 2004: today,
    my lust
    to be understood
    achieved
    a level of disease
    that i will not
    become aware of
    until it
    nearly
    destroys me
    some years from now.”

    i never find this confession put so succinctly,
    yet it fills every page
    as the unworded summation
    of everything i have ever written
    or said
    or thought
    or been.
    and finally i am silent,

    when i hear:
    (listen,
    child:

    there
    is
    a Word
    which
    traced
    the face
    of God
    across
    a nothing
    even
    emptier
    than you.)



    Grandmother of Southern Arkansas
    February 7, 2012

    Dear grandmother of southern Arkansas
    I cannot remember you when you
    were not bent. I cannot remember you
    without those grey orthopaedic shoes
    and without that navy-blue, short-sleeved
    sun dress (I think it was) that showed
    how the skin on your arms hung.

    Dear grandmother of southern Arkansas,
    I cannot remember a time when
    your face was smooth enough for me to
    read the expression on it. I cannot
    remember you without aunt Lois Ann, you
    were mother, husband, and child to her, you,
    snapping beans, sitting in the kitchen.

    I can remember the checkerboard you
    gave me for Christmas. I can remember
    hearing you wish to my father that you
    could have bought me something nicer.
    You thought I was listening to my walkman.
    I wish I had played checkers all day,
    to you let you know I understood. I didn’t.

    I can remember the day you died,
    I was the only one with you. Your spirit
    just slipped past your lips as you exhaled
    the last time, lungs too weary to snatch it back.
    I remember walking out to the lobby,
    finding your children, telling them.
    Watching them cry.

    I remember my father after that. How he
    watched too much television at strange hours
    of the night. Once or twice when I asked him a
    question, he did not even hear me. I remember
    you present in every familiar movement that he
    could not stir himself to make. And maybe that
    was the first time that I really knew you,
    grandmother of southern Arkansas.



    Isaiah 25:1-8
    September 21, 2011

    I.

    You are my God, Yahweh.
    I will lift you high.
    I will sing of Your name.
    For You have done what I can hardly fathom.
    A plan, from out of eternity, has come,
    Faithful,
    True.

    You have turned a city into a pile of rubble
    An unassailable fortress, fallen from its cliff
    The palace of strange princes was once a city;
    it has become something that can never be rebuilt

    Now a mighty people glorify You,
    The homelands of these merciless men fear You.

    For You became the strong center of impoverished cities, beseiged.
    You became the strong center of poor men, beseiged.

    You were shelter from storms.
    You were shade from the blistering heat.
    For at once,
    the winds of the cruel were both like a storm beating the walls,
    and like the heat of a scorched wasteland.

    They roar; You subdue.

    Like withering heat, quelled with a cloud’s shadow,
    the song of the violent turned to shame.

    II.

    Then Yahweh-Who-Commands-The-Powers-Of-The-Universe
    will prepare a banquet for all the nations gathered on the mountain,
    a feast overflowing with oil and the finest aged wine

    On that mountain, He will consume the shroud
    that is wrapped over the faces of the peoples
    and the burial sheet stretched over all the nations.

    He has swallowed death forever!
    Yahweh the Lord will wipe the tears from every cheek.
    He will undo His people’s shame
    and cast it beyond the edge of the world.

    Yahweh has spoken.