Copyright (c) 1993 First Things 33 (May 1993):

Choice Trees

In primal garden
the tree
stands laden,
owned by him
who warns,
don't eat or
sure you'll die.

Yet you,
arrogant Adam
in us all,
grasp prerogatives
never due.

Thrust out,
you stumble toward
that other tree,
for life.

Ann Horn


Eternity is uncorrupted light;
the world proceeds by interrupting sight,
exchanging day and night.
Half the acts of earth avoid the sun;
much that's done
may be begun by day but end at night:
aborted, buried light
is customary here; it shocks no more
than does a war
such as the one we wage against the innocents-
supreme offense
receives its time of rest at end of day:
we get away
with most of what we do-or so it seems
in darkened dreams.

Millions, millions scraped out by the left
hand and the right. Rounding bellies cleft,
translucent fingers reft
from reaching hands. "Curettage" is the word
fit to be heard;
"killing by ripping the baby apart" is cruel
and seldom heard in school.
"Suction" pulls the nerves and bones away
like child's play,
like sucking a soft strawberry through a straw.
The moral law
has been "salted out": it comes out burned
instead of churned
and bears grotesque resemblance to a man
in a can.

The doctor pricks earth's salt into the womb
and makes of it a sour, corrupted tomb.
Authorities assume
that no soul has been poisoned by this cup,
calling up
the methods and anesthetizing sermons
invented by the Germans.
A final and emergency solution
is occlusion
through disseverance: life is cleanly blocked,
birth cropped.
The result looks like a Jew who's crawled
from Buchenwald
dead. Our instrument's the arrogance
of ignorance.

Devils entertained in darkness resemble
angels, and by nature will dissemble.
Saints, believe and tremble
as the world in dark and light revolves.
But life resolves
itself in light, and disobedience
is washed from innocence
like dark blood dabbed from busy doctors' fingers.
All that lingers
is the uncorrupted will of God in light;
no night
will turn behind that single, perfect day.
Burned away
is all that festers, kills, denies and stains.
God remains.

Kent Gramm

Man in a Glacier

The mountainside failed. But when
we saw that deep spot the dead sun
came back heavy as an engine
and my pick rattled like a gun.

The ice unravelled; we peeled it from
his toothy face, glittering brown,
a woody rubber round his mind,
the Bronze Age still stuck to his tongue.

We etched; I touched his empty thumb.
My present echoed like a tomb.
We stood in the twilight alpine wind.
We knelt into the glassy loam

until our slowing fingers numbed,
stroking out his ancient stone
with gentleness like fishes' fins,
tinkering his resurrection-

trowelling out unfinished bone
four thousand years away from home-
cold laboring late angels asking him,
Who do you say I am?

Kent Gramm


Tell me everything you know, the sapient sage
asked the seeker, and, since the former was,
in his role, an editor, the latter filled page
after page of all that followed and preceded cause
and wherefore and why and when. Which he gave
to waiting world and bookman with a flourish, so:
here's the sum of all my learning, all I have,
the full measure of all and everything I know.
Which was all interesting enough, editor and world
said, but not really what we all had in mind:
the telling interesting things are what lie curled
away from what you first off easily, simply, find:
go instead where you haven't gone; go fast or slow
-return, if you will, and tell us all you don't know.

James Andrew Miller

Black Spruce

From a distance
it looked like ordinary
wood, a snuff-colored twig

one might rake
for burning. Surfaced
by the bulldozer

from a sarcophagus of clay, it
could have been the brittle
finger-bone of a prophet, or a

phalange of an extinct ape
from another age. Black
spruce, the geologist says,

buried by the last glacier
budging across Illinois.
The branch lies cool

against the palm. You count
the rings in cross-section:
fourteen. One for each

millennia the tree was a secret
no one knew to tell. You
feel a rush of centuries

receding and for a moment
stand among its antecedents.
The conifer reaches for thin
blue sky, breathes

air full of promise.
In the silhouette
you see a tree waiting
for December.

William North


Thinking of my grandparents,
I stand for a moment on the curb
of a street they often walked,
the old walks cracked and chipped,
and I want to call out to them,
as if they were climbers just ahead
moving across rock and fields of ice,
rubble in the slip of years past.

But if they spoke, would it only
be to say, watch the path, here
a climber fell, and there another,
into the dark heart of the world?

The day of my grandmother's funeral
the boulevards were full of rain,
and grandfather's a year later,
came in deep June, just as the
roses he had planted
forty years before, had thrown
their blossoms across the porch.
By then, though, their friends
were mostly gone and inside
the parlour furniture was worn
and the frame house smelling
of old clothes and old people.

By then too I had heard that great pulse,
closed my eyes, and stepped forward,
right at the icy edge of their certainty.

Ralph St. Louis