(August/September 1994)

Copyright (c) 1994 First Things 45 (August/September 1994)

As If
(Psalm 73)

Here's a picture of the bad ones I once envied:

Everything came easily: they did not need
To work to make their living, want
A catchy line, an angle to find lovers or companions
At the dining table: tan and fit from laps and basking
Poolside, they order drinks and gaze at the deep sky,
Chuckle at the devil, protest unjust god:
Superstitions meant for dimlit losers.
They eat the land bare, suck the ocean
Dry as though they had it in their goblet, tall
And frosted, with their tongues tips swish
Strong currents of the deep.
If I painted
Such a picture for you once, just feeling
Without understanding that I envied
Not another person but a creature of my dreams,
Then my mind would curdle, heart dry up
And I'd have been the dream beast I invented.
But the real touched me, cool and smooth,
Taught me to be able to have everything,
Need nothing, like the names of things
That are not you and are not those things
Either, in a picture story song.

Laurance Wieder

(Psalm 12)

Turn where?
Shark hearts, the fast
Talking, two-faced,
The beasts boast:
Trips and
Falls on
My lips:
If I say
It is so
It is so.

If God's word be hot
Coal (my good thoughts
The embers)
Stoke up a bonfire.
Those lip-lickers lurk
In the shadows
And eye me.

Laurance Wieder

What They Gave
(for my brother, Larry)

I wanted to talk, just you and me your
girl Linda, blown away: her eyes,
still mirrors. (Stepfather's impotent
rage, falling drunk all over her words,
his gun. And then she's dead.
And the old man? He probably fell too.
Passed out, wetting himself,
under all those fierce stars.)

Next to the garage we sat, talked
in high weeds, streetlight. Tears you had
rubbed away flattened the blond hair high
on the walls of your cheeks. You said
what you could-everything around you
still tangible: the wood that made up
the houses, the buzz in the light overhead.
A cricket, next to you, with its
black lines, incredible hinges.
Wonder and death. Who could make this?
Who would?

Physical affection did not run in our family.
Our parents had to watch from a distance
as the dust of all those summer days, the tears,
gave us a skin.

This is what they gave.

David Craig

The Victorious Ones

They march in like the infantry-
Mrs. Alexander and her women of Circle 9.
Blue bib aprons tied in double bows,
they take position in the
industrial-grey church kitchen.
No time for chatter.
Carrots must be sliced, cheese cubed;
pickle spears placed upon lettuce-laced trays
as only they can do.
Steely-haired all, they know where to find
every paring knife and chopping block. . . .
Men out! And to the novices
with offerings of help: No, thank you.
This is the Lord's work and theirs-
serving others
who would be lost, utterly,
amid these crowd-feeding
pots and percolators. Too busy, too tired, themselves, to eat,
they stand behind their food-
with hot tongs and slotted spoons,
dishing up yams and green beans
and Captivating Chicken Casserole.
Mrs. Alexander keeps a sharp
eye on the rolls. Stomachs full, we applaud these women
whose lipstick stays put
while their feet swell in navy kid pumps,
whose silken sleeves are spattered
with grease.
We give thanks to those
who know who they are.

Ashley Mace Havird

Old Habits

You'd wonder now where all those saints have gone,
Those cowling round our calamitous days,
Broadest-backed for the narrowing of hope-
The widest shoulders to lean worlds upon;
All frantic, fretted, our unholy frays
That haled them, incensed, off the walls to cope.

Fine, coarse, familiar habits, soutaned, veiled,
Surpliced, sandaled, paled, visioned, you know how-
Are we undone-now are the champions fled ?
O that those soaring Josephs up the nave,
Those sudden Gabriels might blaze the now
Of need-those Anthonys might find their bread ! Now, how it sounds we're talking in thin air
Or to ourselves-as if they weren't all there !

Tom P. MacGloin

At Sea

At night Walter shudders without light
Puts his grip on life in glass with his teeth
And hopes his eyes don't roll under the bed
Laughing in the lonely dust, hiding in his shoes.
Walter shivers and pockets his dreams,
Thinks maybe the whalers will come pick me up
Folds margarine into bread for tomorrow's
Garden lunch in the grass, sings deafly O
white waves and brown girls alive alive o
Marks the day off one more thank god until
Sunday when Mr. Connor with his boat
Comes up the porch to make me alive again
And on the ocean my legs are thickmuscled
Without blue popping veins and
The rough hair is golden and the sun is mine
Walter dips his bread in grease for dinner
white and brittle like an eggshell now
but i slept on oily wood, morning steamy
with the carcasses of monsters o i lived
Walter huddles under his sheet and rocks
Seeing the greentops of mountains at the foot
Of the bed, off starboard; and forgetting the dark
He squints a tan and a smile
And watches the sun without blinking . . .
here we go boyos the islands of steamy green

Brian Doyle