Epithalamion

Sit in the sun surrounded by love,
head heavy as a peony,
a blessing of petals swaying it toward prayer.
Listen, eyes closed, to the hum of guests,
of bees, dusting dance of pollen
visited on others in a fertile chain.

Mistress, this joy is from you,
brushing, as we do, your palms, your face,
entering the faith you’re making real.
Citadels you’ve taken with your hope
harbor tired refugees,
enemies of war divorced and tender in our flight.

Inspire us. Share your rings.
Lead your husband toward the band,
every step declaring peace.
Clasp him in your arms,
holding his gaze, accord
level as a field where nothing is submerged.

Eat cake as the communion that it is,
votive offering, potential to love mindfully
and well. We are bruised.
Help us bite gently from each other’s hands,
brother speaking kindnesses to brother,
every glass lifted to a common, needful praise.

After the toasts, throw us your bouquet,
reminder we are chosen,
marked for high regard that calls us by our names.
Even your garter is a quiet glimpse, a knowing
nod to armistice, the intimate, the delicate
occasion of our joining, our guard at last let down.

Value yourself, the risk you undertake,
the symbol you become.
As hardened as we are, we need your blush,
your fire, our pillar in the night.
If we make too much of your small day, forgive us.
Children trust the sun, haunted by its cooling,
honored by its light.

 

With Your Right Hand You Save Me

The boot we find in the river, empty
as a homestead – dishes on the table, owners gone –
recalls a pharaoh emptied from his skin, still watertight.

Hieroglyphic smoke rises, honoring the dead.
I have mine. You have yours. We hold
vigil, burning, small offerings by firelight.

Early next morning, you in the tent asleep,
narcissism and I spell my name with a stick
in the stillness of the ash.

Once daylight comes, who can believe in death?
Zealot that I am, I walk into the water to feel real –
venial, I know, but I matter so sharply to myself.

Even your silence is, animal and warm,
not enough to draw me from this temple,
alert, awake to runoff, cold as living will.

For breakfast, you packed berries,
sweet and fat. You’ll share with me, pretending you don’t
hear confession in my voice: regret –

I will take them all.

 

Photo by Brooke Gottmeier

 

I Hear There is a River Underground

Murmuring voices whisper my fears
at the lip of the cave.
You swear they are just
_____a susurrus of streams,
indifference mounting an echo,
making mouths
_____at nothing,

_____but the growling
hollows me the way a tree dies
at the core:
_____diseased heartwood
moribund while cambium persists.

Another swimmer, local girl,
hovers for a moment at the edge, small
caution, then she leaps.

_____I can almost
hear the wind slide through her
agile body like a flute,
meting out a trill
as she, brave embouchure, finds
rest around the province of the tune.

 

Photo by Brooke Gottmeier

 

Portraits/1

after Luc Delahaye

Imagine yourself homeless in a photo booth. Outside
waits the photographer who promised not to look
while you compose yourself, a ghost in the machine.

After he leaves, taking your likeness, leaving you
heavy in your tabernacle coat, you recall
lectures in college, Descartes, mind separated,

egg from shell, and wonder where you are. Wandering
mind is to body as body is to home, foolish to remove
one as if the other could survive.

Windows of the coffeehouse conjure a mirage – you inside : you
out – christened in the rising steam :
standing in the long and empty street.

Abide, you tell yourself,
but waiting hurts, desire sharp as hunger in the gut.

 

Photo from http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/sullivan/sullivan4-10-03.asp

 

Near twilight

__________ one lean riverboat
edges the bank. The world is quiet.
Patient ducks ride reflections in the wake,
hours like water rolling off their backs.
Even now, frogs, in their impossibility,
sing.

Holding his breath, the boater
quickens his pace and can’t say why.
Amid the air and cooling spray, the teeming
valley opens its broad mouth.

A line lies coiled in the bow,
hungry for the mooring and the cleat.


 

Her Tattoo

Elegantly seeded in the furrow of her spine,
even rows of letters
repeat: my dream
is to be powerful and free.

Cherish the audacity.

Hands that hold the whip must
underline that strength.

Lechers face the speechless roar:
existing is resisting.

Maybe her voice is soft
as alchemy, the silence of base metals
admitting they are gold.

Nonetheless. She is

indelible, marked now,
translated by the dream.
Adamant as philosopher’s stone,
matter beyond measure rests beneath her skin.


 

In the Absence of a Word for a Woman Who Is Not a Mother

“Your dream, then, is of a nothingness where an investment of love lives on.”
~ Charles D’Ambrosio

Under the pitted crust of April snow, blind and
rooting, everything waits. It’s not like you’d
expect, not having children. It’s not

elegy or effigy, but some days even this resolve must
hold its breath, tested
by lily bulbs and history of rose.

Again, the promises of thorn and orange tongue
near their glory, needle through the loam
in interrupting green.

My love with its own labors,
liquid, runs it channels,
energizing what it didn’t fix in place.

By now, I know no ghosts will share my bearing,
and there is peace in what one waters.
No trace or debt, one just

evaporates. My children’s children, offer this
kindness: bless the rain that patters
as a pilgrim loves the road.

 

Yesterday Your House Was Vandalized

I know you keep antiques, beauty,
venerable objects you love
not for looks, but what they’ve seen,

every imperfection a history,
human record, necessary as
vows. And now

a wanderer,
your vandal, of the tribe that once sacked Rome,
imprints here her own report.

That scratch on the chiffonier,
almost unnoticeable, rings with violation,
mouths at you both rising and at rest:

Empty your home.
Let me unsettle, help you
understand the lies of lock and key.

Set up sawhorses,
hew the doorframe
as you will, inscribe a prayer for

vagaries, vicissitudes, invasions
enough to keep your shutters banging, open as a palm.


 

For the Harvest in the Barrel and the Day that Calls us Home

for Tessa

Kiln-fired hopes still shatter
easily enough. She lives in the city,
cultivating orchards in her mind,
harrowing the rows, tending to her
once-dreamed apple farm.
Long homestead evenings,
emptying cider from the press,
melt of winters lavish
in the ground, restoring health,
mending what the cold had slowed.

Kintsukuroi, she says, golden repair.
Every fracture part of history, rich
composite of lacquer and gold
healing in the cracks.
Our dreams are open veins,
land ready for the seed,
emerging finally in
many-colored leaves,
in fruit as sweet as laughter, as
men’s songs who now live free.


 

A Man of Unclean Lips Considers Prayer

for Nicole

The angel was kind, a school nurse
applying the live coal like a bandage. Antiseptic

white, wings rolled to his elbows,
his hands were like my own, which should have seemed

more strange. His voice was feather-soft,
familiar. I guess I expected to go under –

wasn’t surgery required?
The infection went so deep

I was certain it would take a blade.
Nothing.

Just a touch of heat.
No scalded stub of cigarette on flesh

or punishment of metal on the skin.
Just a touch of heat,

as if he’d rubbed his palms together fast and light,
then laid them on my wound.

Prayer is simply this:
I have nothing to explain.