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Monday, February 15, 2016

Struck Dumb

Struck dumb
longer than Zechariah:
to write, to sing, to pray --
for four bleak years
impossible.

Afterwards,
no benedictus comes;
instead, at best,
a stunted lament:

a scratch on silence
(not speech, not song);
forced, discordant note
cracking the voice

that once could much but now
can nothing do

Afraid

I never leave the room
On crisp fall days
When squirrels scamper among the dead leaves of the promenade
And pumpkins squat stoutly on porches
Of Arlington's neat side streets

I never turn off the TV
I can’t pry myself away from Facebook
I never stop fretting about the state of the union
And indeed the state of the world

I never ask the pretty girl out
I never audition for community theatre
I never take guitar lessons or pottery classes
I never paint bright splotches of colour
Just for the fun of it

I never laugh at silly jokes
Or drink apple cider in October
Or make snow angels in the snow
Or dance around the maypole when flowers awaken
Or dive into the ocean fully clothed

I just sit here like a wart on a plug-ugly frog
A two-bit Horace lamenting the fleeting years

Freckled Lily

I remember you:
the smiling blonde of twenty-one
in the psych ward of Snowden Hospital.
Outwardly OK, friendly and easy-going,
healthier, it seemed, than some of the doctors,
your only apparent problem
a fondness for smoking pot.
Maybe you tried some pills,
maybe some coke.

When the counselors would lecture
on gateway drugs, on sober living,
on coping strategies,
you’d roll your bright and mischievous eyes
from beneath the black bill of a baseball cap.

I saw you exactly once more
after our stint at Snowden.
You were walking with friends in Central Square.
You waved hello at me and smiled
a soul-softening smile I wish I could have
stored in a jar for safe keeping.

It was two Septembers later,
you went to a bar on the North Shore
and found a guy who seemed harmless,
someone to spend a few hours with—
smoke, do some lines, whatever.

You went back to his place
and got into a fight.

You tried to leave.

They found you in the marshes,
beaten, stabbed;
the papers spoke of "multiple
blunt force trauma."

You’d be in your forties now.
I’d like to think you’d be all right,
that you’d have quit messing around,
you’d have found a program
where you’d learn good living:
Easy Does It, One Day at a Time.

But that's not what happened.

Reckless womanchild,
this poem can’t undo your brutal end.
It can’t go back and protect you,
make you as happy as birdsong in April,
domestic and safe as laundry.

Freckled lily,
trampled, crushed,
I pray that you might flower once again
where wrecked petals unwither and freshen,
where degredation’s alchemized to light,
where wounds break into blossoms.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Donahue Field

We name Little League parks
and street-corners after you
(for whom the honour
seems too small a thing)
but few take notice of it:
relatives, friends, the VFW.
Still, I often walk past your plaque
at Donahue Field, Lieutenant,
and I pray for you every time,
killed in action, aged twenty-seven,
half a world away from home
the week of Christmas 1969.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Saint Joseph's Abbey

Spencer, Massachusetts
visited 30 March - 6 April 1992


Here, no television
to put forth candidates
for the distracted multitude,
no advertisements to entice
the urge for acquisition:
here, nothing but space,
peace, and monk-built walls.

The grass of the hill
south of the guest-cottage
accepts what weather comes
(chill rain, warm beam,
white flake, clear sky),
and does not complain.

A rabbit scampers
across the landscape of Lent.
By day, bluejays gather
on cemetery branches.
Night's alive
with the menace of owls.

Three hours before dawn,
leave the fieldstone house;
let night's chill scorch
soul and skin; walk the path
unlit but for one light
near a statue of the Virgin;
enter the cloister, fear-
fully, wonderfully dark.

The atmosphere of Spencer
is electric with angels!

Cistercians file churchward
to chant their wonted psalms:
With subtle fire, with cordial flame,
the brothers' gathered hearts
are inexhaustibly enkindled,
by grace made one.

In the Silverware Drawer After Dark

The steak knives are playing the Ramones at full blast. The salad forks are dancing with the teaspoons to the tune of "Come On, Ei...