(August/September 1999)

Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 95 (August/September 1999): 12, 20, 40, 48, 54.


At peak of day it starts,
Starlings chittering
Like bits of broken glass.

An autumnal chorale
In the crown of sycamore,
Whose trunk flakes white

Beneath the frangible song,
Whose yellowing leaves lap
And lave its glitter

Toward our ear, astonishing us
Amid grocery lists, dishes,
And mating socks,

Who in and out the doors
Of duty seldom pause
For such emissaries.

—Mary Freeman


Suddenly, an awareness: I know, without
knowing how, that in the next minute I’ll see

an aqua glint in the sand; the sea glass
sets my agenda. Or a flawless, oval pebble

shining wet at the lip of the tide rising.
Or a volute, its helix unfolding so perfectly

it must have been meant. Maybe a knot
of wood so cleanly itself, so tight in its bleached

whorl of grain, that it is hard to imagine it as
once being part of a tree. It might be

a rock that has held its secret fossil
one hundred thousand years for this moment,

its constant signal subliminal, a tone
humming its way along time to reach me with

a tingle in my skull, a premonition of its
sly ambush in the next few yards; the runnel

of my desire and the stream of God’s will marrying
in a current so resolute it had to happen.

Luci Shaw

A Poem Ending in the Preposition "with"

"You can fail love, but love will never fail you."

. . . an idea so luminous,
so . . . so . . . amazing

that most of us
have to make up conditions:

Thus, love comes free,
but not for you or me.

we have to deserve it,
we have to be worthy of it

and thus we live for the if of ever
wondering always whether

we have failed again
or have somehow earned

what was always there to begin

—Michael S. Glaser

Figures in Mist

Dusk. Yellow light and white
from the different streetlights
one with gold glass smashed
shines porcelain glare on every blade
where the bulb hits—the other coldly, goldly casts
over the scene a jaundiced glance
and the Tae Kwon Do practitioners on the grass
exchange mock body blows to pressure points,
nerve clusters—a black belt first dan of sixty odd
told my brother vampires lived, sucked human beings’ blood;
some men break boards, some make of their mind
an adze honed on a lathe like a utensil for the marketing
as kitchenware; perhaps the choice
is absent, only men as darkness falls
on Sunday night exchanging body blows
till they can’t see the night bring small bats out
from yellow darkness and they fly like hearts
seeking fresh hot life in the quiet blue black grass
—and I wonder—do men become
what they desire, practicing at dusk
for full bright daylight or only perspire
the hours till day makes what it wants of us
and floods the grass with broken white cup shards of light?
None left on the grass, dark has made the park
a realm of swift run beacons from passed cars
and unreliable white and golden glow
from the partly vandalized lamps.

—Atar Hadari


Since the cold sea first learned to speak in tongues
and howled aghast at its madman’s chains,
since the Eden break, since the winterspring,
since the star–aspired spires rained
back to earth with stone disdain,
who’s thanked the Lord for broken things?

Down the babbled days that brook no praise
or blame—no everlast, no stay—
the brutal waters waste to bless:
the transubstantial stones decay,
the solid monstrance wears away.
Nothing is its inwardness.

The greenhill blood the green heart beats,
even this at last must cease.
From the sudden shade, from the owl light,
a sparrow falls and falling, dies.
The blood tide dims. Dark waters rise
till lowered sky and lakeshore meet

and all things fade: this pine, this tree,
this life, this world, this this, now not—
and yet, not not. In dark we see:
nothing’s found where nothing’s sought,
in silence is the silence caught,
and still breath moves the unmoving seas.

—J. Bottum