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  • Autumnal Dark and Dawn
  • Richard H. Behm (bio)

A Fire of Spices

I knew a phoenix in my youth . . .

—William Butler Yeats

What is a life but a fire Of spices: cardamom, clove, Cinnamon, ginger, mace, A dash of bitter turmeric, A twist of saffron perfume.

And from these fragrant ashes That red-gold bird ascends, Attended by the stars, The scarlet smoke of hope, Whispering flames of desire.

Some say but once in Five hundred years, some Say longer, some say it is merely Chimera, unicorn, dragon, As real as those.

I say vanilla bean, cumin, star Anise, a rainbow of peppercorns. And in the darkness a flint, This offering, this bleached flesh Almost rising, rising . . . [End Page 279]

A Good Friday

Sitting on the worn green rocker while a cool breeze blows through the pale amber air, I listen to the thin three-note whistle of the chickadees,

the peck of their beaks as they break black seeds on thin birch limbs, then flutter to the feeder again. I used to spend such April days

in the solemn shroud of church, amid incense and candles and chants and promises of the dead rising. Now I worship in this, the Cathedral of Common Birches,

just me, the sun, and the dog, a flock of monk-frocked juncos, not one cardinal but five, and from the greening swamp rises a lusty hallelujah of frogs.

Meditation on Coyotes

It’s four in the morning, and down At the lake the exuberant Yips, yowls, and howls of coyotes Fill the starry autumnal dark.

I lie in bed and wonder if The hunt has just begun, or if They exult the blood of a fawn, And thereby celebrate the dawn. [End Page 280]

From deep in the wood, the owl gives No answer, and I rise to watch The stars fade, the day shapes arrange Themselves into the familiar.

How many years divorced from night We are, hunkered in the comfort Of our caves. Oh, to hear the cry Of hunters at night stirs the blood.

And I would put my nose to ground, Sniff the faint trail there, happily Follow wherever it leads, find Again the wild self of the heart.

Science and Imagination

What harm in saying that the sun rises Or a star falls across the velvet sky, Just because science contradicts the eye And logic edits the old surmises?

Dare we deny biology’s decrees That love is merely evolution’s curse, The heart’s great rage and ache simply a verse Of genes composed across the centuries?

And tell what effrontery there would be If we professed a soul, and further claimed That when the flesh unbreathes, the soul remains, Science blinded by what it cannot see?

Reason plods while imagination soars And fills the vacuum that nature abhors. [End Page 281]

Richard H. Behm

Richard H. Behm is a professor of English, emeritus, at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a longtime contributor to the Sewanee Review and other periodicals.



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