The Songbird Market
Beijing, a man with the faith of ages
Turns to offer a courteous reception.
We have come to see about a bird,
One whose song we clearly hear,
Not a chattering to disturb our sleep,
Not a harsh grackling to make bitterness;
A bright song faithful to the day.
We start with a single purple finch
Agreeing the sound rises to a fine pitch
Deep but backwashing into space.
A larkspur lords us with a weird tremolo,
A tanager an imperfect tangled dodder;
Warblers and yellow throats keep time but
Remind you of children going without bread.
You wince at the cry of the loggerhead shrike.
We turn finally to a mourning dove,
A soft multi-toned mossy prayerful gray,
A poetry of basketed furbishing
We take home, a promise of good love,
Gentle, patient and prolonged, happy
With this bridge between our hearts.
Judith in Old Age
She drowses now drifting
Between scorn and harsh grace.
She remembers the miry head,
His stricken face, lips peeled back,
The broken hymns of praise,
The immodesty of her rage.
Here though her fingertips
Turn the crisp green stem,
Poignant with fragrance and color,
A meshing intimacy she spins,
The petals blending lucent
As the sun warming her window seat.
For the first time she knows
The politeness of colors,
Their pattern of binding light.
Outside the last snow melts;
She sleeps and dreams trusting
The husband who comes to take her home.
Anterior Forms of Life I:
Faint Echoes of Another Life
—for Lester Krough
Fuchsia moon last night, late rising.
This morning still above the horizon,
Floating in water light like some
Exhausted martyr’s life, calling to mind
The memory of someone left behind:
Forty-odd years of continental drift,
The imagination playing with itself.
The shanks of my bare legs
Stick out beneath my bath robe’s hem;
(No leering or snickering please.)
In the basement, the well-pump sounds,
Gargles into soul-sapping weariness.
Tomorrow the well-man comes
To mend out slow and estuarial flow.
This much is true: In the immersions
Of that broken well-pump I remember
Six summers from my own life;
Your age I never knew but much older.
From May to August, driving, working
Construction for good money, for school,
For books, a bluebonnet seed for another life.
Change of class, you said, then hummed
Cab driver, drive by Mary’s place.
It’s truth books will get you there
But there is not a place at all or far from
Summer road-sides of milkweed, thistle, bee-balm,
Where you still sit waiting in the truck
Forever telling me after decades, I told you so.
I hear again the wind whacking the windshield,
The Mills Brothers, your misdirected jokes
I see the pale and patient color of saffron
Spreading across the Iowa morning sky,
The book held again inside the perfect grasp
Of my young and glowing hands and you
Telling me again of Normandy and Jun