by Christina Rossetti
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
Names never cease to amaze me. In the hands of this poet, two familiar stories flow out of one simple name, each informing the other.
So named for Peter, the one who tried
to walk on water. The Storm
Petrel, small as a sparrow with a frantic,
pulsing flight, stays silent at sea,
pattering the water with its feet to feed.
Peter, venturing onto that first
unfurled swell, saw the black gyre
below and knew the darkness.
He flailed his arms for rescue
as thunder cracked
a seam of doubt down his center.
He was lifted unto the shore like a bird
thick with oil. And after each wing
was delivered and each feather realigned,
the black stench still lingered:
a line beneath each nail
an itch inside his throat.
By Kristin George. Published in The Cresset (Lent 2012), page 31. Naming and walking silently are kingly things.
How have we invaded the moon? Is the moon’s light not as potent now that we have stepped upon its face? I love space exploration, but this poem is still profoundly true. Our imaginations wax dangerously rootless, shiny, sterilized and inhumane. Thanks to the student who taught me this poem today.
The End of Science Fiction
by Lisel Mueller
This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.
Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.
The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.
Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.
Elizabeth’s handmade card to me contained a line from this poem. Her love, being true, knows desire and loss.
Clenched Soul by Pablo Neruda
translated by W.S. Merwin
We have lost even this twilight.
No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.
I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.
Sometimes a piece of sun
burned like a coin in my hand.
I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.
Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel you are far away?
The book fell that always closed at twilight
and my blue sweater rolled like a hurt dog at my feet.
Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight erasing statues.
We kick our camels’ sides and curse, but they refuse to rise,
as if this house were the only oasis in a trackless desert,
and this child, playing in the doorway, the owner of the well.
They swing their ponderous heads slowly from side to side.
Their silver harness bells tinkle, their vermillion tassels flap,
and the child laughs.
He cannot be the one foretold to lead us to the abode of light,
where wisdom glistens like dewdrops on which new worlds curve.
We must have misread the astrological signs or been dazzled
by a wind-driven spark. But how do we explain the strange behavior
of our beasts? They stretch out their necks on the sand and sigh.
It sounds like prayer.
There being none other, we may as well present our gifts to him,
although they feel all wrong, as if we had carried precious salt
across steep mountain passes to offer to a prince living by the sea.
Worthless to us, we will leave our frankincense to purchase bread,
and our gold to pay for lessons. Of what use is myrrh? Before we go,
let us buy him a ball.
Far away, we perceive our granddaughters twirling prayer wheels.
Through our minds’ sanctum echoes the sound of ripe plums tumbling
into beggars’ bowls. In the ravine of the roan horse, lighting blasts
a single tree. Like closed pine cones, our hearts burst open in the heat!
We would not be more astonished if a star slipped from the night
to hover here beyond the dawn.
Too stunned to dismount, we gaze and gaze. How extraordinary!
The ordinary child!
From Firmament, a book of poems by Kathleen L. Housley. This is the opening poem in the first section of the collection, entitled “Lessons for a Young God.”