Poetry


Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 77 (November 1997):.

Sapphics, Refusing Politics

For R.

If I have seen geese low on the east horizon,
seen the cold reeds strain in the dawn to follow,
watched the first gray ice of the season take
roots for the winter,

that scene is no great moment in days that fathers
greet a half-born child with a knife and daughters
name the pain-free murder of mothers most
prodigal mercy.

And they that speak strong words in the failing seasonó
sparking new fires, stoking the dampened embersó
scorn the faint hearts nursing a private flame,
skirting the darkness.

But still the cold reeds sway in the wind and whisper,
"Leave the great voice blazing to stave the winter.
Autumnís own soft music has need of songs
gentle and dying."

J. Bottum

Catching My Grandson

Oh, look, old Galileo whispered, look, we move.
And burning, burning in the sky, the sun stood still.
Earth turned and spun and whirled about the ball,
but no one else believed. Not then. Take time,

my father called, watching our first adopted toddler fall,
push up and waddle to my lap. It goes so fast.
Yeah, yeah, I thought, patting my daughterís goldilocks,
thumbing her tears away. I loved that chubby cherub

with the grapejuice grin, took turns changing Pampers,
scrubbing that kid in bubble baths, giving time
and horsey rides, a thousand tasks each day before I slept.
I accuse myself, I confess I doubted my old man.

What passes fast, I thought, was time enough to do
what must be doneóanother flight, reports overdue,
the grass I had to cut. The earth does turn,
no, spins. I crouch now, catching my grandson

firing the ball, the red seams spinning.
Heís older than his mother was that night
my father called, when my knees could duckwalk a mile,
my shoulders and biceps bulged. Ouch, I mutter, now,

a pain each time I lob the baseball back,
my right arm stiff, old shoulder bony,
the hard ball wobbling, plopping in his glove.
And now he burns it hard, curve ball inside

I have to dive for, falling again for physics
faster than reflex, and Iím laughing on the ground,
hugging the ball, my grandson laughing,
staggering off the mound, pounding his glove.

Walt McDonald

Distinction

Psalm 143

I canít cry innocent in any court:
Dogged by enemies, I ran, was caught.
Pitched in a hole, my soul turned waste,
Heart hollow rock not even wind might whistle through.
Did darkness when the universe was torn from you
Into its being, long for nothing?

Hurry. Faces of the long departed, dim and empty
Peer up from the pit. I said, "The sun will rise tomorrow.
I will see it." Will I? Keep me and my spirits spinning

Level at the rim until the hateful clatter echoless
Down their appointed slot. Then keep me longer:
No good likeness when I am not.

Laurance Wieder