20th Century Poets-10




The scene within the paperweight is calm,
A small white house, a laughing man and wife,
Deep snow. I turn it over in my palm
And watch it snowing in another life,

Another world, and from this scene learn what

It is to stand apart: she serves him tea

Once and forever, dressed from head to foot

As she is always dressed. In this toy, history

Sifts down through the glass like snow, and we

Wonder if her single deed tells much

Or little of the way she loves, and whether he

Sees shadows in the sky. Beyond our touch,

Beyond our lives, they laugh, and drink their tea.

We look at them just as the winter night

With its vast empty spaces bends to see

Our isolated little world of light,

Covered with snow, and snow in clouds above it,

And drifts and swirls too deep to understand.

Still, I must try to think a little of it,

With so much winter in my head and hand.

by Gjertrud Schnackenberg




Bethlehem in Germany,
Glitter on the sloping roofs,
Breadcrumbs on the windowsills,
Candles in the Christmas trees,
Hearths with pairs of empty shoes:
Panels of Nativity
Open paper scenes where doors
Open into other scenes,
Some recounted, some foretold.
Blizzard-sprinkled flakes of gold
Gleam from small interiors,
Picture-boxes in the stars
Open up like cupboard doors
In a cabinet Jesus built.

Southern German villagers,
Peasants in the mica frost,
See the comet streaming down,
Heavenly faces, each alone,
Faces lifted, startled, lost,
As if lightning lit the town.

Sitting in an upstairs window
Patiently the village scholar
Raises his nearsighted face,
Interrupted by the star.
Left and right his hands lie stricken
Useless on his heavy book.
When I lift the paper door
In the ceiling of his study
One canary-angel glimmers,
Flitting in the candelabra,
Peers and quizzes him: Rabbi,
What are the spheres surmounted by?
But his lips are motionless.
Child, what are you asking for?
Look, he gazes past the roofs,
Gazes where the bitter North,
Stretched across the empty place,
Opens door by door by door.

This is childhood's shrunken door.
When I touch the glittering crumbs,
When I cry to be admitted,
No one answers, no one comes.

And the tailor's needle flashes
In midair with thread pulled tight,
Stitching a baptismal gown.
But the gown, the seventh door,
Turns up an interior
Hidden from the tailor's eyes:
Baby presents like the boxes
Angels hold on streets and stairways,
Wooden soldier, wooden sword,
Chocolate coins in crinkled gold,
Hints of something bought and sold,
Hints of murder in the stars.
Baby's gown is sown with glitter
Spread across the tailor's lap.
Up above his painted ceiling
Baby mouse's skeleton
Crumbles in the mouse's trap.

Leaning from the cliff of heaven,
Indicating whom he weeps for,
Joseph lifts his lamp above
The infant like a candle-crown.
Let my fingers touch the silence
Where the infant's father cries.
Give me entrance to the village
From my childhood where the doorways
Open pictures in the skies.
But when all the doors are open,
No one sees that I've returned.
When I cry to be admitted,
No one answers, no one comes.
Clinging to my fingers only
Pain, like glitter bits adhering,
When I touch the shining crumbs.

by Gjertrud Schnackenberg


Snow melting when I left you, and I took
This fragile bone we’d found in melting snow
Before I left, exposed beside a brook
Where raccoons washed their hands. And this, I know,

Is that raccoon we’d watched for every day.
Though at the time her wild human hand
Had gestured inexplicably, I say
Her meaning now is more than I can stand.

We’ve reasons, we have reasons, so we say,
For giving love, and for withholding it.
I who would love must marvel at the way
I know aloneness when I’m holding it,

Know near and far as words for live and die,
Know distance, as I’m trying to draw near,
Growing immense, and know, but don’t know why,
Things seen up close enlarge, then disappear.

Tonight this small room seems too huge to cross.
And my life is that looming kind of place.
Here, left with this alone, and at a loss
I hold an alien and vacant face

Which shrinks away, and yet is magnified–
More so than I seem able to explain.
Tonight the giant galaxies outside
Are tiny, tiny on my windowpane.

by Gjertrud Schnackenberg


                                    an introductory lecture

This morning we shall spend a few minutes
Upon the study of symbolism, which is basic
To the nature of money. I show you this nickel.
Icons and cryptograms are written all over
The nickel: one side shows a hunchbacked bison
Bending his head and curling his tail to accommodate
The circular nature of money. Over him arches
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and, squinched in
Between that and his rump, E PLURIBUS UNUM,
A Roman reminiscence that appears to mean
An indeterminately large number of things
All of which are the same. Under the bison
A straight line giving him a ground to stand on
Reads FIVE CENTS. And on the other side of our nickel
There is the profile of a man with long hair
And a couple of feathers in the hair; we know
Somehow that he is an American Indian, and
He wears the number nineteen-thirty-six.
Right in front of his eyes the word LIBERTY, bent
To conform with the curve of the rim, appears
To be falling out of the sky Y first; the Indian
Keeps his eyes downcast and does not notice this;
To notice it, indeed, would be shortsighted of him.
So much for the iconography of one of our nickels,
Which is now becoming a rarity and something of
A collectors’ item: for as a matter of fact
There is almost nothing you can buy with a nickel,
The representative American Indian was destroyed
A hundred years or so ago, and his descendants’
Relations with liberty are maintained with reservations,
Or primitive concentration camps; while the bison,
Except for a few examples kept in cages,
Is now extinct. Something like that, I think,
Is what Keats must have meant in his celebrated
Ode on a Grecian Urn.
                               Notice, in conclusion,
A number of circumstances sometimes overlooked
Even by experts: (a) Indian and bison,
Confined to obverse and reverse of the coin,
Can never see each other; (b) they are looking
In opposite directions, the bison past
The Indian’s feathers, the Indian past
The bison’s tail; (c) they are upside down
To one another; (d) the bison has a human face
Somewhat resembling that of Jupiter Ammon.
I hope that our studies today will have shown you
Something of the import of symbolism
With respect to the understanding of what is symbolized. 

by Howard Nemerov

from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977).


A long time ago, when I was a child,
They left my light on while I went to sleep,
As though they would have wanted me beguiled
By brightness if at all; dark was too deep.

And they left me one toy, a village white
With the fresh snow and silently in glass
Frozen forever. But if you shook it,
The snow would rise up in the rounded space

And from the limits of the universe
Snow itself down again. O world of white,
First home of dreams! Now that I have my dead,
I want so cold an emblem to rehearse
How many of them have gone from the world’s light,
As I have gone, too, from my snowy bed.

by Howard Nemerov


Documentary about Hart Crane and his poetry:

The Broken Tower

The bell-rope that gathers God at dawn 
Dispatches me as though I dropped down the knell 
Of a spent day - to wander the cathedral lawn 
From pit to crucifix, feet chill on steps from hell. 

Have you not heard, have you not seen that corps 
Of shadows in the tower, whose shoulders sway 
Antiphonal carillons launched before 
The stars are caught and hived in the sun's ray? 

The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower; 
And swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave 
Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score 
Of broken intervals… And I, their sexton slave! 

Oval encyclicals in canyons heaping 
The impasse high with choir. Banked voices slain! 
Pagodas, campaniles with reveilles out leaping- 
O terraced echoes prostrate on the plain!… 

And so it was I entered the broken world 
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice 
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled) 
But not for long to hold each desperate choice. 

My word I poured. But was it cognate, scored 
Of that tribunal monarch of the air 
Whose thigh embronzes earth, strikes crystal Word 
In wounds pledged once to hope - cleft to despair? 

The steep encroachments of my blood left me 
No answer (could blood hold such a lofty tower 
As flings the question true?) -or is it she 
Whose sweet mortality stirs latent power?- 

And through whose pulse I hear, counting the strokes 
My veins recall and add, revived and sure 
The angelus of wars my chest evokes: 
What I hold healed, original now, and pure… 

And builds, within, a tower that is not stone 
(Not stone can jacket heaven) - but slip 
Of pebbles, - visible wings of silence sown 
In azure circles, widening as they dip 

The matrix of the heart, lift down the eye 
That shrines the quiet lake and swells a tower… 
The commodious, tall decorum of that sky 
Unseals her earth, and lifts love in its shower.

by Hart Crane

From The Complete Poems of Hart Crane – The Centennial Edition, from Liveright Publishing, © 1932

Crane’s “At Melville’s Tomb” read by Hans Ostrom:

Crane’s “The Dance” (from “The Bridge”) read by Tom O’Bedlam:


Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved,
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the north wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.
Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl's cry, a most melancholy cry.
Shaken out long and clear upon the hill
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.
And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered too, by the bird's voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

by Edward Thomas


I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.

Many a road and track
That, since the dawn’s first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.

Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.

There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter, and leave, alone,
I know not how.

The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
And myself.

by Edward Thomas


Now first, as I shut the door, 
I was alone 
In the new house; and the wind 
Began to moan. 

Old at once was the house, 
And I was old; 
My ears were teased with the dread 
Of what was foretold, 

Nights of storm, days of mist, without end; 
Sad days when the sun 
Shone in vain: old griefs and griefs 
Not yest begun. 

All was foretold me; naught 
Could I foresee; 
But I learnt how the wind would sound 
After these things should be.

by Edward Thomas


Yes, I remember Adlestrop--
The name--because one afternoon 
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop--only the name--

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry;
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloustershire.

by Edward Thomas

To My Twenties

How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman-
O woman!  O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
A palm tree, hey! And then another
And another-and water!
I’m still very impressed by you.  Whither,
Midst falling decades, have you gone?  Oh in what lucky fellow,
Unsure of himself, upset, and unemployable
For the moment in any case, do you live now?
From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I find there on
The street instead, a good friend,
X—-N—-, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes!  I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time!  In you I marry,
In you I first got to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies.  I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living.  I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were the midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren’t a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.

by Kenneth Koch

from The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch


One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.

Each Sentence says one thing—for example, “Although it was a dark 
        rainy day when the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the 
        pure and sweet expression on her face until the day I perish 
        from the green, effective earth."
Or, “Will you please close the window, Andrew?”
Or, for example, “Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window 
        sill has changed color recently to a light yellow, due to the 
        heat from the boiler factory which exists nearby.”

In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the 
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, “And! But!”
But the Adjective did not emerge.

As the Adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat—
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.

by Kenneth Koch

The Age of Reason

“When can we have cake?” she wants to know.
And patiently we explain: when dinner’s finished.
Someone wants seconds; and wouldn’t she like to try,
while she’s waiting, a healthful lettuce leaf?
The birthday girl can’t hide her grief-

worse, everybody laughs. That makes her sink
two rabbity, gapped teeth, acquired this year,
into a quivering lip, which puts an end
to tears but not the tedium she’ll take
in life before she’s given cake:

“When I turned seven, now,” her grandpa says,
“the priest told me I’d reached the age of reason.
That means you’re old enough to tell what’s right
from wrong. Make decisions on your own.”
Her big eyes brighten. “So you mean

I can decide to open presents first?”
Laughter again (she joins it) as the reward
of devil’s food is brought in on a tray.
“You know why we were taught that?” asks my father.
“No.” I light a candle, then another

in a chain. “-So we wouldn’t burn in Hell.”
A balloon pops in the other room; distracted,
she innocently misses talk of nuns’
severities I never knew at seven.
By then, we were Unitarian

and marched off weekly, dutifully, to hear
nothing in particular. “Ready!”
I call, and we huddle close to sing
something akin, you’d have to say, to prayer.
Good God, her hair-

one beribboned pigtail has swung low
as she leans to trade the year in for a wish;
before she blows it out, the camera’s flash
captures a mother’s hand, all hope, no blame,
saving her from the flame.

by Mary Jo Salter

From her book Sunday Skaters. © Knopf.


The music was already turning sad,
      those fresh-faced voices singing in a round
            the lie that time could set its needle back

and play from the beginning. Had you lived
      to eighty, as you’d wished, who knows?—you might
            have broken from the circle of that past

more ours than yours. Never even sure
      which was the truest color for your hair
            (it changed with each photographer), we claimed

you for ourselves; called you John and named
      the day you left us (spun out like a reel—
            the last broadcast to prove you’d lived at all)

an end to hope itself. It isn’t true,
      and worse, does you no justice if we call
            your death the death of anything but you.


It put you in the headlines once again:
      years after you’d left the band, you joined
            another—of those whose lives, in breaking, link

all memory with their end. The studio
      of history can tamper with you now,
            as if there’d always been a single track

chance traveled on, and your discordant voice
      had led us to the final violence.
            Yet like the times when I, a star-crossed fan,

had catalogued your favorite foods, your views
      on monarchy and war, and gaily clipped
            your quips and daily antics from the news,

I keep a loving record of your death.      
      All the evidence is in—of what,
            and to what end, it’s hard to figure out,

riddles you might have beat into a song.
      A younger face of yours, a cover shot,
            peered from all the newsstands as if proof

of some noteworthy thing you’d newly done.

by Mary Jo Salter

From Henry Purcell in Japan (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984).

Welcome to Hiroshima

is what you first see, stepping off the train:
a billboard brought to you in living English
by Toshiba Electric. While a channel
silent in the TV of the brain

projects those flickering re-runs of a cloud
that brims its risen columnful like beer
and, spilling over, hangs its foamy head,
you feel a thirst for history: what year

it started to be safe to breathe the air,
and when to drink the blood and scum afloat
on the Ohta River. But no, the water’s clear,
they pour it for your morning cup of tea

in one of the countless sunny coffee shops
whose plastic dioramas advertise
mutations of cuisine behind the glass:
a pancake sandwich; a pizza someone tops

with a maraschino cherry. Passing by
the Peace Park’s floral hypocenter (where
how bravely, or with what mistaken cheer,
humanity erased its own erasure),

you enter the memorial museum
and through more glass are served, as on a dish
of blistered grass, three mannequins. Like gloves
a mother clips to coatsleeves, strings of flesh

hang from their fingertips; or as if tied
to recall a duty for us, Reverence
the dead whose mourners too shall soon be dead,
but all commemoration’s swallowed up

in questions of bad taste, how re-created
horror mocks the grim original,
and thinking at last They should have left it all
you stop. This is the wristwatch of a child.

Jammed on the moment’s impact, resolute
to communicate some message, although mute,
it gestures with its hands at eight-fifteen
and eight-fifteen and eight-fifteen again

while tables of statistics on the wall
update the news by calling on a roll
of tape, death gummed on death, and in the case
adjacent, an exhibit under glass

is glass itself: a shard the bomb slammed in
a woman’s arm at eight-fifteen, but some
three decades on—as if to make it plain
hope’s only as renewable as pain,

and as if all the unsung
debasements of the past may one day come
rising to the surface once again--
worked its filthy way out like a tongue.

by Mary Jo Salter

To the Desert

I came to you one rainless August night.
You taught me how to live without the rain.
You are thirst and thirst is all I know.
You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,
The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand
Your breath into my mouth. You reach—then bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.
I wake to you at dawn. Never break your
Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,
Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga, Break me,
I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

From his book Dark and Perfect (El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press, 1995). Copyright ©1995

The Fifth Dream: Bullets and Deserts and Borders

A man is walking toward me.
He is alone.
He has been walking through the desert.
He has been walking for days.
He has been walking for years.
His lips are dry
and cracking
like a piece of spent soil.
I can see his open wounds.
His eyes are dark
as a Tanzanian night.

He discovers I have been watching
though he has long ceased to care
what others see. I ask him
his name, ask him what
has brought him here, ask
him to name
his angers and his loves.
                        He opens his mouth
to speak—
but just as his words hit
the air, a bullet
pierces his heart.

                        I do not know
the country
of this man’s birth. I only know
that he is from
the desert. He has the worn
look of despair
that only rainless days can give.
That is all I know.
He might have been born
in Jerusalem. He might have been
born in Egypt. He might
have been the direct descendant
of a pharaoh. His name
might have been Ptolemy.
His name might have been
Moses. Or Jesus.
Or Muhammad.
He might have been a prophet.
He might have been a common thief.
He might have been a terrorist
or he might have been just
another man destined
to be worn down
by the ceaseless, callous storms.
He might have come
from a country called Afghanistan.
He might have been from Mexico.

He might have been
looking for a well.
His dreams were made of water.
His lips touching
that is what he was dreaming.

I can still hear the sound of the bullet.


The man reappears.
It does not matter
that I do not want him
in my dreams. He is
searching through the rubble
of what was once his house.
There are no tears on his
face. His lips still yearn
for water.


I wake. I begin to believe
that the man has escaped
from Auschwitz. Perhaps he sinned
against the Nazis or because
he was a collaborator or because
he was Jewish
or because he loved another man.
He has come
to the desert looking
for a place he can call home.
I fall asleep trying
to give the man a name.


The man is now
walking toward a city
that is no longer there.


I am the man.
I see clearly. I am
awake now.
It is me. It has taken me
a long time to know this.
I am a Palestinian.
I am an Israeli.
I am a Mexican.
I am an American.
I am a busboy in a tall building
that is about to collapse.
I am attending a Seder and I am
tasting my last bitter
herb. I am a boy who has learned
all his prayers. I am bowing
toward Mecca in a house
whose roof will soon collapse
on my small frame.
I am a servant. I shine shoes
and wash the feet
of the rich. I am an illegal.
I am a Mexican who hates all Americans.
I am an American who hates all Mexicans.
I am a Palestinian who hates all Israelis.
I am an Israeli who hates all Palestinians.
I am a Palestinian Jew who hates himself.

I am dying of all this knowledge.
I am dying of thirst.
I am a river that will never know water again.
I am becoming dust.


I am walking toward my home.
Mexico City? Washington?
Mecca? Jerusalem?
I don’t know. I don’t know.


I am walking in the desert.

I see that I am reaching a border.

A bullet is piercing my heart.

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The Truth the Dead Know

Gone, I say and walk from church, 
refusing the stiff procession to the grave, 
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse. 
It is June. I am tired of being brave. 

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate 
myself where the sun gutters from the sky, 
where the sea swings in like an iron gate 
and we touch. In another country people die. 

My darling, the wind falls in like stones 
from the whitehearted water and when we touch 
we enter touch entirely. No one's alone. 
Men kill for this, or for as much. 

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes 
in the stone boats. They are more like stone 
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse 
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

     For my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
     and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959

by Anne Sexton, 1928 – 1974

Maggie Jordan, of the North Carolina School of Science and Math, recites “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton:

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

by Anne Sexton, 1928 – 1974


Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
She can ill afford the chances she must take
In rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
A packing-case places, and almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
She’s often stuck up to the axle on her way
To something edible. With everything optimal,
She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish. She lives
Below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
Will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
The sport of truly chastened things.

by Kay Ryan

Lighthouse Keeping

Seas pleat
winds keen
fogs deepen
ships lean no
doubt, and
the lighthouse
keeper keeps
a light for
those left out.
It is intimate
and remote both
for the keeper
and those afloat.

by Kay Ryan

William Everson (Brother Antoninus) Beat Poet & Catholic Priest

William Everson vividly represented one of the great traditions of California poetry—the prophetic visionary. His worldview was more religious, his temperament more mystical, and his voice more private than his spiritual and artistic model, Robinson Jeffers, and yet the two poets are recognizably kin…. Both wrote out of the elemental confrontation of man and untamed nature, both [had] poetic visions that emerged from an almost primal existential struggle. [And both] are irreplaceable, the genuine article.  —Dana Gioia

These Are the Ravens

These are the ravens of my soul, 
Sloping above the lonely fields 
And cawing, cawing.

I have released them now,
And sent them wavering down the sky,
Learning the slow witchery of the wind,
And crying on the farthest fences of the world.

by William Everson (aka Brother Antoninus)


Some seed in me,
Some troublous birth,
Like an awkward awakening,
stirs into life.

Terrible and instinctive
It touches my guts.
I fear and resist it,
Crouch down on my norms, a man's
Patent assurances.

I don't know its nature.
I have no term for it.
I cannot see its shape.
But, there, inscrutable,
Just underground,
Is the long-avoided tatency.

Like the mushrooms in the oak wood,
Where the high-sloped mountain
Benches the sea,
When the faint rains of November
Damp down the duff,
Wakening their spores- -
Like them,
Gross, thick and compelling,
What I fear and desire
Pokes up its head.

by William Everson (aka Brother Antoninus)

The Making of the Cross

Rough fir, hauled from the hills. And the tree it had been,
Lithe-limbed, wherein the wren had nested.
Whereon the red hawk and the grey
Rested from flight, and the raw-head vulture
Shouldered to his feed—that tree went over
Bladed down with double-bitted axe; was snaked with winches;
The wedge split it; hewn with adze
It lay to season toward its use.

So too with the nails: milleniums under the earth,
Pure ore; chunked out with picks; the nail-shape
Struck in the pelt-lunged forge; tonged to a cask, 
And the wait against that work.

Even the thorn-bush flourished from afar,
As do the flourishing generations of its kind,
Filling the shallow soil no one wants.
Wind-sown, it cuts the cattle and the wild horse;
It tears the cloth of man, and hurts his hand.

Just as in life the good things of the earth
Are patiently assembled: some from here, some from there;
Wine from the hill and wheat from the valley;
Rain that comes blue-bellied out of the sopping sea;
Snow that keeps its drift on the gooseberry ridge,
Will melt with May, go down, take the egg of the salmon,
Serve the traffic of otters and fishes,
Be ditched to orchards…

So too are gathered up the possibles of evil.

And when the Cross was joined, quartered,
As is the earth; spoked, as is the Universal Wheel—
Those radials that led all unregenerate act
Inward to innocence—it met the thorn-wove Crown;
It found the Scourges and the Dice;
The Nail was given and the reed-lifted Sponge;
The Curse caught forward out of the heart corrupt;
The excoriate Foul, stoned with the thunder and the hail—
All these made up that miscellaneous wrath
And were assumed.

The evil, the wastage and the woe,
As if the earth's old cyst, back down the slough
To Adam's sin-burnt calcinated bones
Rushed out of time and clotted on the Cross.

Off there the cougar
Coughed in passion when the sun went out; the rattler
Filmed his glinty eye, and found his hole.

by William Everson (aka Brother Antoninus)

Out of the Ash

Solstice of the dark, the absolute
Zero of the year. Praise God
Who comes for us again, our lives
Pulled to their fisted knot,
Cinched tight with cold, drawn
To the heart’s constriction; our faces
Seamed like clinkers in the grate,
Hands like tongs—Praise God
That Christ, phoenix imortal,
Springs up again from solstice ash,
Drives his equatorial ray
Into our cloud, emblazons
Our stiff brow, fries
Our chill tears. Come Christ,
Most gentle and throat-pulsing Bird!
O come, sweet Child! Be gladness 
In our church. Waken with anthems
Our bare rafters! O phoenix 
Forever! Virgin-wombed
and burning in the dark,
Be born! Be Born!

by William Everson (aka Brother Antoninus, O.P.)