Poems 2008

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How to search for aliens

At midnight we’d light candles
in the tabernacle and begin
our yearly vigil for the dead.
Mostly I remember the kneeling,
how the vaulted ceiling pressed
the congregation silent until grief
weighted the air. Sometimes I slept
as the incense censer chimed smoke
into strange eddies; often I dreamed
of falling into a vast darkness only to wake
in the pew with tears stepping down my face
as though death had come and gone in the space
of an hour. Even then I knew the spirit shunned
this drama, the artificial quiet shrouding the voice
of god in ritual while outside the planet spun
unperturbed. Four point five billion years
since genesis and the sky still hovers
like a veil between us and space,
wanting to be lifted before the unintelligible
babble dismantles the tower we have
half-built. At Arecibo, signals fall
from the dark like angels dropping messages;
there are miracles in the data waiting for discovery,
contact unrealized despite centuries of squinting
into the heavens. When our vigil ended we would walk
home in the cold, my mother mourning the past
while I tracked the stars that winked between
the street lights, listening for serendipity
in between footsteps. She held my hand so tightly,
perhaps she knew that prayer was too simple:
not enough prime numbers hidden in the signal,
no small man standing on our solar system,
peering out into the universe.

First published in the 2009 Ellen La Forge Poetry Prize annual.

Later appeared on 3 Quarks Daily, July 17 2009.

 

Unmended daughter

At last, her window glints
with muted light. The dark
has bound the autumn trees
with sleep. Beneath their stark

arms I wait as she mends
her socks: the mangled seam
ignored for months had torn
too wide. And here, unseen

outside (the cold a sharp
needle, a spur) I shake—
then wreck my childhood door,
its homely wood a fake

boundary, feeble beneath
my boot. Splinters. Inept
pieces stipple the floor,
the hall ahead. I kept

her letters as years crept past.
Tonight those written stitches
will not constrain me. Words,
mother, are scant riches,

unspelled with ease. But how
your face softens within
this stupid dark! Though tears
unmend my will, your thin

needle has already turned
to rust and nicked your wrist.
Words won’t mend the tear
your careless thread has missed.

First published in Shit Creek Review, Issue 8, Obsession and Compulsion.

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