Crossing Again; The Fugitives; Brave Face; For the Adversary
My mother’s worried voice is in my head,
Saying autumnal, autumnal equinox
And North Atlantic Ocean, ocean travel,
Faint keening in a room of memory,
My mother’s voice there saying equinox,
Like a spell cast into the drifting future.
We’re leaving California in the fall.
We’re leaving on a ship named I forget.
I’m little, I am barely legible,
Except I know a couple of new words,
And cellophane wrapped oranges in our stateroom.
September and the port is Montreal.
Powers addressed by prayer will follow us.
My mother’s voice will live inside my head,
A girl’s voice all her life until she slid
Down the scale of sorrow and forgetting.
I hear her still, crooning the sliding chord,
The fall of autumnal equinox and the rise.
A porthole looks out on the night-lit storm,
Surging beside the ocean liner plunging,
And then is closed and buckled shut, a lid.
The gale force wind will pitch our pitching ship
Across the North Atlantic to the Clyde,
Until we dock in Greenock, come to stillness.
She, the only one who found her sea legs,
Will keep her family steady till we come through,
Carrying high and light, her worried voice,
The words I hear, the lyrics and their tune.
After the storm, the deck still rocks a little.
The ropes for walking string across the wet,
The coarse hemp threads through eyelets of green metal,
As we go holding on, the gray waves sliding.
After the gale force wind has lifted, we
Can walk across the slick deck holding on
And underneath, the earth below the flood
Tilts and shrugs the light off its gray shoulder.
My father leads the way or does he follow
Or does he lean to me, steering my steps,
And says as if it must be visible,
We’re near the North Pole here. We’re very near.
Geography and fancy turn inside out
And I turn toward the world of actual fact:
The overcast and grizzled iron ocean
With the earth rotating underneath our feet.
And everyone was charmed
As we slid into port. Slate roofs
Deepened their dimensions.
The houses along the docks,
With dark and leaning gables
And windows looking downcast,
Appeared to move along with us
As the ship dropped anchor
And our launch slipped in like a charm.
The sun was blurred somewhere,
Grimly, palely shining.
And everyone was charmed
When I exclaimed a word
I’d learned from children’s books.
Peering between the railings
I greeted our new home
With a word for its dour face—
“Wonderland!” I said.
Deformed by their society, they found
Poetry was a form that would unbind
Them from their awkward sequestration.
They made an elegance out of their isolation.
Despite their moral insecurity,
Poetry made them firm. Its sure beauty
Hollowed a space inside their warped prison
And drew a reason out of its unreason.
And as they came to recognize outside
Were those they had excluded, some drew in
And studied these new subjects. Their canted focus,
Claimed as freedom, made its kind of ruckus.
I don’t think any of them died enlightened,
Except to gain a sense of the benighted
Injustices they’d countenanced and mused
Upon as blemishes of a world they had enclosed.
They wrote their beautiful poems. And sometimes
Mentioned the sins that bled out into crimes.
But they were crimes which though they were abhorred
Could be absolved by calling on the Lord
Who would, they knew, forgive the perpetrators.
In their fallen world of art they were creators
With Olympian disinterest as their best,
Singled out, rose somewhat above the rest.
In flight from times they thought were retrograde,
In flight and on the lam, the things they made
Gleamed in a vacuum, smudged if need be smudged,
And earthy, rooted, as far as could be judged
In their terraria. The world they called upon
To be the real (and really with the sun
It did show its naked mask, a better one
Than had been worn for years) was still right, still wrong.
The world looks brighter every day,
Or saying so’s a better idea
Daily as the world grows grimmer
And time looks longer with each glance
Backward and ahead looks shorter. Summer
Burns on and the fire dance
Leaps the fire break and fence
And makes a square mile out of an acre.
The days look sunnier overcast
By broken transparencies of rust.
I wonder again what I have done
To harm my children, who relate
Their traumas now that they are grown
And offer me a chance to make
Amends and ask to be forgiven,
Sometime at some future date.
And what are health and happiness?
Admitting both are acts of grace.
I’m old enough that dreams now tell
The whole truth without wish fulfillment.
And if each spreads its radiant gel
Colorfully over the rapid movement
Of lidded eyeballs, the rich detail,
Though spellbinding, brings no embarrassment.
I wake and know it’s just a dream
And not a cause for fear or shame.
And if I cringe to be found out,
My judge will then recuse himself
And let the day cast its own doubt
And suspend the sentence, as the earth
Turns over to the dark to start
Sleep rolling along a narrow shelf.
The shorter that the time ahead
Grows and recedes, the deeper red
Appears the sky at either end
Of day or night. I like to feel
That dailiness is a kind of friend
Who does not share the cosmic zeal
For a world in flames, as we defend
Time and the life that makes it real.
For the Adversary
We do this out of pity as fellow creatures.
We go up, down, and around upon the earth.
And when your skewed regard stares back at you,
wincing at your likeness, wounding your pride,
we see our faces, too, crossing your gaze;
and when your soul, evaporated, walks,
hunting faith in all its hiding places,
we go with you on the roads, like vapor columns
after a downpour on a summer day.
We go upon the earth, up, down, and around.
We do this as fellow creatures, out of pity.