Night Spirit by Ann Mirabile Lees

Author photo: Mark Alan Lovewell

The spare, exquisitely phrased poems of Ann Mirabile Lees’ Night Spirit pull no punches, facing the realities of personal and extra-personal hardships unflinchingly, finding reminders of them even in the oceanic world of the author’s beloved retreat on Martha’s Vineyard. But they also find solace in the world of nature, and the book ends with lovely celebrations of life-saving moments to be found in that world. What stays with one most of all after an immersion in Night Spirit is a vision of its author as a resilient spirit not unlike her portrait of a twisted spruce clinging to a steep cliff and holding fast, though stunted by gales. Early readers of this, Ann Mirabile Lees’ first poetry collection, have been delighted by it. Bridget E. Meeds has noted that “Ann Lees is a scientist by training and a poet by spirit. Both of her sides are apparent in this chapbook of precise, insightful poems about the topics that matter. She shares her concerns about the world of people and the balm that the world of nature offers in her carefully constructed verse. Ann’s poems elucidate her life philosophy and clarify her hopes, with an eye to both beauty and truth.”

Front cover photo: Jeanne V. Campbell

Ann Mirabile Lees received her B.A. in Political Science from Wellesley College, and her M.D. from Harvard Medical School. Following a year in London, where her husband, Robert, was a fellow at the National Heart Hospital, she returned to the U.S. to do research in lipid metabolism at the National Heart Institute of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Another move occurred when her husband joined the Rockefeller University in Manhattan. During that period, Ann remained at home with their young children. One more move brought her back to the Boston area, where she has remained ever since. After the youngest of her four children entered nursery school, Ann joined her husband at the MIT Clinical Research Center, where she, along with many essential colleagues, focused on the basic causes of atherosclerosis. The work was also carried out at the New England Deaconess Hospital, and finally at the Boston Heart Foundation, a non-profit clinical and research organization set up by her husband, with her help. Their research culminated in the discovery of atherin, a previously un-known protein in the artery wall, which Ann was given the privilege of naming. She is the first author on a patent involving atherin, a key player in the formation of plaques in arteries. Ann and her family have had a house on Martha’s Vineyard for over thirty years and frequent it in all seasons. Her poems, often inspired by the island, have appeared in several Vineyard publications, as well as the Harvard Extension School literary magazine. In addition to writing, her activities include kayaking, walking her dog Chloe, visiting her five grandchildren, and traveling.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-28-3

Copyright © 2012 by Ann Mirabile Lees

6" x 9" paperback, 36 pages



True North

In despair I cry, Who will help me?
I imagine spirits in the trees, rocks,
rivers, moon to whom I pray,
but they don’t understand the words I speak.
I drown like a deer swept away by a stream
turned torrent by ceaseless rains.

I create a god in my own image,
certain it will vanquish my fears.
I pray with fervor so great
that blades of grass weep with dew
in the early morning light,
but It doesn’t understand the words I speak.
I turn to the mirror, seek strength in it.



We fill the pill holder of our lives every week
and every week we empty it one more time.
Do we stop to think that each empty chamber
is another day gone from our lives?
Not easy to think that way, but true —
like your transformation
from vigorous sapling bending with ease
before all winds to tottering oak
held upright only by crutches
that do nothing more than hold off collapse
for a few more bittersweet days.

Time is two-faced, not the way January is —
looking towards old and new — but without mercy,
giving all and taking it away on a schedule
that makes as much sense as one tacked
on the wall of a deserted railway station.
When storm winds sweep you from sight,
it will be as hard as walking on a bed of nails
to say, “Goodbye. I’ll miss you.”
And to be reminded that some day
they will take me, too.

Yet without time
there would be no sunrise to bring hope
to us who are afraid of the alien dark,
no sunset to light our hearts with fire.

So, tackle time with courage:
the only way to escape death
is to avoid conception.


From a Brooklyn Subway Train

Just past Carroll Street the F train surfaces
from a long black tunnel beneath the earth
to face the open sky, sometimes filled
with sunshine, sometimes with rain,
passing clouds or shape-changing moons.

A passenger who’s alert
and knows where to look
can catch a glimpse,
past elevated highways
pot-bellied gas tanks
and weary apartment blocks,
of a beautiful woman far in the distance
standing on water and holding a torch —

be moved by her copper green beauty
amid so much ugliness,
remember the promises she’s made
to the huddled masses yearning to be free.

But passenger, be quick.
After the 4th Avenue station
the streaking train will plunge
back into darkness underground.


Evening News

A mother and four children sit side by side
in front of a tired TV, freckled
with flickering light, rigid, silent, watchful,
engulfed by a sagging sofa, surrounded
by broken windows and shattered plaster.
Static from the speakers garbles the words,
makes the woman lean forward to hear.

The angle of her body mirrors the fear
in her eyes. The baby cries for water.
The woman goes to the sink, turns the faucet.
Nothing comes out. She lifts the child
into her lap. The others huddle closer.
Twin sisters, just turned five, scan the screen,
hoping its magic will show their missing father.

A knock as sharp as a shot rattles the door.
The knock comes again. The boy jumps up,
opens the door a crack, ready to slam it shut
if danger lurks on the other side. No one
is there. The TV goes black but the sounds
continue, as endless explosions
drum closer, farther away, closer.

The last rays of the setting sun
leave the room in darkness
except for flashes of light from battle,
just enough for the mother to see by
as she tucks the children into a bed,
stretches the blanket to cover everyone,
and lies down beside them.



Somewhere along
the Newfoundland coast
layers of black volcanic rock
encrusted with sparse green lichen
rise a hundred feet out of the sea
that beats at their base.
In a crevice half way up,
a twisted spruce tree
stunted by the wind
holds fast.


Night Spirit

A great silver sphere
launched by invisible hands
appears without a single sound
and glides across the arc
of a starlit sky.

Hungry foxes hunt their prey
in its shimmering night-green valleys.
High-flying owls etch miniature shadows
on fallow fields, teeming jungles.

Waves breaking on shores
in Boston and Bombay
Oslo, Osaka
Athens, Antigua
Caracas, Kuwait
Hamburg, Havana
Cape Town and Chilmark
are frosted with atoms of light.
Snow-capped mountains reflect radiance
that links us to the universe.

The silent specter exerts its tidal pull
on palm trees and pines
elephants, egrets
beavers, buffalo
lace-makers and lumberjacks —
every inhabitant of our intricate planet.

And on you and me
as we embrace.

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