Three Poems from Math, Heaven, Time
The Tour Guide
I followed the German tour guide
through the hulking old basilica.
He told the group (or so I guessed),
indicating high and low:
This is where the wind begins.
This is where the childhoods of a thousand
martyrs live, untouched.
Wood grain in these pews still curls
to likenesses of patron saints.
Window-holes are cut the breadth
of human souls, when loosed.
Dark paint in the frescoes is crushed ants.
White paint is light.
Leaves and fauna long extinct are rendered
in the porticoes. See that goat
with antlers? Gone from life,
but captured here.
(Hold your breath and it bows its head.)
(Reach towards the ceiling and sigh, and it sighs.)
Worth two times the value of the Bulgar Sea
is that old bell.
(When younger priests
would ring it,
the nuns were warned to shield their hearts.)
He said far more
I can't recall
and when I tried to pay him,
he spurned my coins, saying, in German,
What good is money,
my child, to the wind?
Your Hands (Stieglitz to O'Keeffe)
It's not only
they're a pair of starfish wet
on crumbled rock,
or how they're older
than you are,
or that they stand for you:
fingers sometimes square
as cocktail carrots,
and others, round,
fingers sometimes curved in benediction -
woozy with grace -
or flat and spread above your head,
two antennas calling down
through ceiling boards and roof tiles
the next line you will paint. Cleft
of tendon that lifts in your wrist,
lifeline that hints you'll outlive me -
their fluted shape is the leaning shape you always paint,
a drying conch.
It isn't how they always find the light -
or how they're bronze -
how they echo the ditch
that forms by your clavicle -
or how they possess -
how they sneak from the fields of your sleeves
with a curious nose -
how they're maps of the roads
through the hills by Lake George -
or how they are rakes -
or how each claws his mate, saying: My love! My foe!
how, holding the tree
in even sunlight,
they are the tree.
I have no bones.
I'm the windsock
my neighbor forgets
still hangs from his porch.
You can see in the grain of its cloth
where the color was once,
and twice a week
without a sound
the evening air still lifts it.