- Four Poems
Those Holstein calves lapping at their trough of mossy water resemble Flemish infant Christs born old,
their mournful faces furrowed with foreknowledge. It seems, but isn’t so. The calves are calves, and though their mothers’ lowing tolls
like bells of stone across the windy meadow, they cannot know they’ll die or how. Perhaps they sense they live, a little,
but can they ever feel, as we feel, life, sometimes, striving to be some other thing than brute, like water striving to be wine?
Or as Christ strove to be as wholly human as he was divine by choosing, against his will, to die.
And if by electing our essential imperfection, Christ perfected his humanity, what must we do? And by how much, do we believe, his grace
exceeds our own than ours these witless calves’? And how should I know? All I see is over every sacred altar
his carcass hanging like a side of beef on which our souls, a snarl of hissing flies, breed and feast. [End Page 94]
Not a temple. Nothing so grand as that. A plain hut, rather, in a woods, with shadows surrounding. Nothing much.
To house the light. Windows to let the shadows in, the other out.
It stands. Leans. Lies down.
The shadows gather over it, over the who knows where it was.
No temple. A vacant place where shadows gather. Which housed the light.
Or a little of it. For a little while.
My husband has become a monk, a Mendel among his bean-rows, a mendicant pilgrim bowing and scraping on bended knees to his Jerusalem artichokes.
Prostrate beneath the sun and the tomatoes’ sacred hearts, he seeds the earth with his sweat. [End Page 95]
Sometimes I think he is mad with the mysticism of vegetable love— this exegete of endives, this cabalist of cabbages.
At the kitchen sink, he sets aside the onions’ orbs, the carrots’ golden scepters,
and stares strangely down into his filthy palms spread open as if to hold The City of God,
as if he were reading by the light of the faucet’s flow a scripture only he can see,
as if that soil were a text in the language of the flesh,
a mystery of which he does not wish to cleanse himself.
After dinner he carries a basket full of browned lettuce leaves, beet greens, pea pods, potato peels out to the edge of the woods and scatters them there,
sowing the shadows with alms for the poor who are always with us: the opossums and the woodchucks and the rabbits and the deer.
We make love. And in the moment of consummation he lifts himself above me on arms outstretched like wings,
as if, when most within me, he were become an angel born of my body. [End Page 96]
In the sudden dusk of an August day, I have seen him genuflect to the scarecrow’s crossed sticks,
a dry wind tearing at its tattered rags.
At fifteen I set my heart on learning; at thirty I took my stand;at forty I came to be free from doubts…confucius, analects ii.4
Fifteen, I fell for Rima, that ignis fatuus of longing for the wild tongues of paradise lost, for the beauty of the body, for desperate love. I ran the gauntlet of green whips beside the river’s relentless rush. Lust lashed me, desire drove me to discover how the world weds us to God, how the senses sanctify the soul, how passion could teach the pebbles in my mouth, those muddied words, to sing. I set my heart on learning.
I turned thirty drunk in someone’s bed somewhere, awake while snow spun in the wind and stung the windowpanes. Dressing in the dark, I breathed her body’s scent of spring and earth; it clung to my hands as if all night, kneeling, I had planted rows of fierce, exotic flowers in the fresh ashes of the flesh. [End Page 97]
Out in the cold, in the restless drifts, I stood unsteadily shivering there, the...