Once on a Time
Once on a time when the world
was new and I was new
things presented themselves to me
one at a time to be named
as did the animals to Adam
in the first creation.
And I gave them names
made from the syllables
I found in my mouth and
the naming gave me pleasure.
Each thing then belonged to me
and I was satisfied.
Later the world became old
even as I, and it was full
of distinctions, categories
divisions, and my mouth
was filled with names
not of my own choosing
and the syllables had to be reshaped
to speak even the simplest truths
or the most transparent philosophies.
Is there not some dispensation of grace
by which one may come again to that
language of unencumbered newness
delicious in the mouth,
satisfying the heart’s hunger
for the gladness of Eden?
On my front stoop the pumpkin
at first frost is collapsing into itself.
The joints of my old chairs are coming unglued.
The order of my files has become haphazard
as have the layers of my remembering.
Things I need find me, not I them, if I’m lucky.
The young white birch has spent all but
a few of its gold coins, which cling still
to the random tracery of bare twigs.
There’s a first tentative dusting of snow
on the last furled rosebud, still expectant
and in my old heart a song struggles
to free itself from the entanglements of a sorrow.
Gifts and Bequests
on the occasion of the welcoming of a new child
I give you
rain, the puddle and rainbow maker,
the thirst quencher,
the mother of snow.
I give you
the sunset song of sky
echoed on the evening lake,
the syncopated water-music
of the rock-tumbled brook,
the yearning downdrift of a modulation,
the dawn song of the first-stirring bird,
the huge glad sound of father-laughter
I give you
the beguiling shapes of Jack-in-the-Pulpit
and Lady’s Slipper
and the secret places they grow,
the mottled cows’ slow grazing
and windrows of August hay.
I give you
the quick chipmunk, the slow turtle,
the preposterous presence of
puffin, pelican, and penguin,
and the songs and satisfactions
of great gray whales.
I give you
ships and steam shovels
cogs and wheels, ratchets and cams
levers and fulcrums
by which, given a place to stand,
you can move the world.
Archimedes said so.
I give you
things about which to be curious:
mirrors and magnets, cockroaches’ biological clocks,
the tunnelings of the mind, the drift of continents,
the usages of words and the creative imaginings of genius.
Of course, I give you
the still-mysterious moon
and showers of far stars,
fair nights of hushed winds
and hard nights split by lightning-storm.
And I wish you
the taste of another language on your tongue,
of sushi, pizza, and curry,
of a hundred ways to say “thank you”
and “I’m sorry”.
I also leave you
rocky hills to climb
and injustices to battle,
blues to sing
and wild catastrophes to bear,
disadvantages to overcome
and worthy things to attempt,
risks to take,
anger to tame and prejudice to pry loose.
And I wish for you
the courage of vulnerability,
the healing of comfort,
the chance for forgiveness and
the touch of a loved hand.
In short, I give you this various earth
for your plaything,
for your life’s working
and for your loving...
I doubt there’s a better place for it.
A Separate Place
For a moment, a death
makes everyone else an outsider,
a foreigner in your separated space.
These foreigners come to you
speaking a different tongue,
carefully translating their words
into flowers and casseroles.
They come bringing with them
the currency of their country,
useless in yours unless
exchanged for your new-minted coin.
They come conscious of being
travelers and trespassers
reading their Guides Bleus,
unsure, hesitant, repeating slowly
the useful phrases from
the Book Of Common Words.
The Recently Dead
The recently dead flutter and hover,
unaccustomed to their new transparency.
They’re disconcerted by the grieving
in the wake of their awakening,
by the quiet sound of hearts breaking,
of lives falling apart, like glaciers
calving into the deep drowning waters
of the underworld of whales.
They’ve newly struggled out of
the chrysalis of dying, still uncertain,
do not feel the jagged edge of loss,
are baffled by the freshets of our weeping.
How may we comfort them, untangle
their bewilderment, make them glad?
In a Perfect World
In a perfect world nobody would ever
board the wrong train, get a bad haircut,
or spill red wine on a white tablecloth —
no one would marry the wrong person
or have to have a colonoscopy.
In a perfect world your white shoes
and your elegant white handbag
would be the same color white —
you’d never run out of stamps,
nor have your hollandaise separate.
In a perfect world there would be
no “avocado” dinette sets,
rude salespeople, rainy wedding days
or disappointing vacations —
no wet dogs, no bad poems.
In a perfect world one might hope there
would be no ravenous mosquitoes —
but then what would those perfect,
delicate, red-eyed, gossamer-winged,
dusk-darting dragonflies eat?
Cloud-shapes lie draped
over the sleeping flanks
of the reclining mountain.
A dark mane of fir and hemlock,
touched at the temples with
white strands of birch, rests
casually on a pillow of snow.
Whether mother, sister,
or lover, you belong to her
and know it, for you are
soothed, cajoled, contented
in her familiar presence.
One day, it is certain,
she will yawn and stretch
and catch your eye
and you will go to her
gladly, as you would climb into
the ample lap of your mother
or lay your head on the
smooth shoulder of your sister,
or lying full length and naked
mount the sun-warmed body
of your lover, as if coming home.
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