Demarcations

Where is the line between prayer and poetry?  It’s blurred more often than not.  This is why I love Pinsky, Heaney, the Romantics. That very ambiguity is delicious.  I love how my pagan gods hide beneath the rhythms of secularism.

Today, I’d like to share one of my favorite poems by Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.  It’s a wheel poem, a harvest poem, and a musing on cycles, family, and ancestors.  Read it aloud, and taste the words, feast on sounds as they tumble and circle each other. Enjoy.

BIOGRAPHY
Robert Pinsky

Stone wheel that sharpens the blade that mows the grain,
Wheel of the sunflower turning, wheel that turns
The spiral press that squeezes the oil expressed
From shale or olives. Particles that turn to mud
On the potter’s wheel that spins to form the vessel
That holds the oil that drips to cool the blade.

My mother’s dreadful fall. Her mother’s dread
Of all things: death, life, birth. My brother’s birth
Just before the fall, his birth again in Jesus.
Wobble and blur of my soul, born only once,
That cleaves to circles. The moon, the eye, the year,
Circle of causes or chaos or turns of chance.

The line of a tune as it cycles back to the root,
Arc of the changes. The line from there to here
Of Ellen speaking, thread of my circle of friends,
The art of lines, chord of the circle of work.
Radius. Lives of children growing away,
The plant radiant in air, its root in dark.

Scrolls

I.
Trailing stiff fingers across seeping sandstone,
deeper and deeper into the thrumming earth.
Beneath the sacred hill, down, down, down, plunging
in spiral darkness.

Empty corridors shining with fae fire,
Slipping faster, flowing emptiness surrounds
times before, drifting ghosts across root and rock
show clear memory.

II.
Learning more, travel’s harder, words choking.
Reading, absorbing, mind getting cotton-stuffed,
mental obesity, over-indulgence
in academic bloat.

Right action traded for righteous sloth slowly
blocks the tor-tunnels. Bookcases line Gwynn’s halls,
scroll after scroll, book after tome, dust choking
between deadened leaves.

Shove, shred effortlessly-accumulated
avalanches, begging for clarity.
Trade gifts of intuition for book-knowledge,
Pay a heavy price.

III.
Ash-bright fingers brush mine, pull me free with a
rustling pop. Why do you children rive and slay
experience for stacks of plied symbols? Blackened
eyes crease, not unkind.

Seek the heart-songs, sing them strong.
Dance the dreaming, trailing magic in your wake.
Hold close the fire until it burns your mind
to ash and dust motes,

purging hollow wisdom for brighter knowledge.
Forsake the deadly seduction of cyphers.
Sever, sunder, wrack, rend, tear without mercy
lies clutched too long.

Wild Truth-shaper, rise! Brand the blood of your tribe
in memory’s dance, knotting wyrd as you will.
Flight born of anguish, but so sweet is its draught.
Hunt with me and soar.

Tree Twin Lament

Needles cramp my hand, writing your sap out of my blood.
Me, born in screaming winter depths; you, planted come spring.
Roots garroting themselves in a too-small plot of soil,
Until trunk wounds seep amber with cankerous infection.
Arbor(su)icide or accident of circumstance?
Frenetic meat-monkey, my escape proved too easy.
Love, did you choke on my pain until I could fly free?

 

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Our Lady of the Bathtub

I.
Standing under the streaming spray of the shower head,
Devotion pours over steam-pinked skin.
Warmed by salamanders curled deep in the pipes,
Fire and water cleanse and comfort.
Lady of the Healing Well, Brigid of the Sacred Flame,
Take my tears, cradle my heart,
Here, in your most humble of holy places.

II.
She stands, arms gently open,
A cement shell, pale blue, at her back.
“Our Blessed Lady of the Bathtub” my mother derided.
I wish my gods were so familiar.

III.
Our gods are everywhere.
Why are yours trapped in cathedrals?
Grand no doubt, but aren’t they lonely
When the great double door glide shut
Against the human misery gathered at their feet?
Against the gods of the world outside?

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Reflections on a Beam of Light

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End of Serpents’ Comfort

Sunna’s gaze lights paper / petals float on Skollvaldr’s seas
Steel geese have torn the neck’s burden / stout twin trees of the sole twisted
The kernel of the corn sheaf bursts forth / breathing blackened corpse dust
Speak well of the small kindnesses / and rend the seethers into disregard
Sing memory’s triumph / at the sweet end of serpents’ comfort.

People say you never forget where you were. It’s true. I was walking back from fencing class in college. The sky was clear, untroubled.  It wasn’t until I called my mother and she said, “They’re gone,” that the terrible wrenching unreality of the whole thing became as crystalline as that autumn sky.

There was a reason no jet trails marred the arc of Ymir’s skull.

Last night, as I drove past Worcester, anger welled as I saw twin searchlights piercing the sky.  “What right have you?” I muttered.  “Bullshit solidarity looking to cash in on the pain of others.  You’re not New Yorkers, you don’t have the right.”  Of course by that logic, neither do I (I’m a Jersey girl).

My ex-husband couldn’t understand why this anniversary affected me so.  I didn’t lose any loved ones.  A few people from our town died, but no one I knew personally.  I wasn’t even near New York at the time.  How could I explain that the city skyline that watched over my childhood was now broken?  It was wrong, viscerally and totally wrong.  Months later, you could still smell the ash, still breathe the dead.  Would taking them into our lungs, our bodies let them live on in us?  Or would they kill us all, a slow, choking revenge of “Ground Zero Illness”?

During the Concert for New York City, Richard Gere had the bravery to plead for cooler heads, not to retaliate in kind against Al-Qaeda.  The crowd turned dark and ugly.  Gere did not abandon his pacifist stance, saying, “That’s apparently unpopular right now, but that’s all right.”   In that moment, I was ashamed.  America garnered much good will from the world after this wretched sacrifice. We have squandered it entirely.

I pulled into work as the moon was cresting the tops of the trees.  Looking out across Greenwich harbor, the twin beams of light appeared as one, a single torch that would burn until dawn.  I walked down to the sea wall and stood at the edge, smelling the swelling tide and watching my moon-shadow stretch across the rocks.  The soft, light breeze lifted my arms and for the first time in 13 years, I spoke to the dead.  I poured out my gift into the black waters and felt peace.

The new tower bears the name “One World Trade Center.”  May that be a promise as much as a prophecy.