keep a little place within you that is always a forest in summer

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me.”

Memories Adapted for the Screen The film is never quite the same as the children’s book you knew growing up, inevitably things are changed: the actor who plays me is much younger than they have any right to be, the actor who plays you is athletic and inexplicably bald. And so it  was no surprise, really, to find the final scene before the credits to be a sunny day, clouds large  and sheepish, a single wave reaching an arm out of a bay that could be Massachusetts,  or just as easily some other coastal state; on the shorethe lighthouse of childhood innocence the one thingstill there.

Memories Adapted for the Screen

The film is never quite the same
as the children’s book you knew growing up, inevitably
things are changed: the actor who plays me is
much younger than they have
any right to be, the actor who plays you is
athletic and inexplicably bald. And so it
was no surprise, really, to find the final scene before the credits

to be a sunny day, clouds large
and sheepish, a single wave reaching
an arm out of a bay
that could be Massachusetts,
or just as easily some other coastal state; on the shore
the lighthouse of childhood innocence the one thing
still there.

the lake

He walked to the edge of the lake. It was completely flat like a plate, like a pan, and the trees were changing color close by it and were reflected around the edge so that it had a sort of glorious halo running around its rim, searing orange and yellow and brick red and here and there a green fir that refused to change with the season. He looked at the flat surface of the lake and thought about how still it was, and because it was so perfectly still and calm and seemed like a pool of heavy metal collected there he felt a great desire to break it. He imagined himself hurling his body into it and slipping under the top like an ant under a puddle of mercury from a broken thermometer, the way the ripples would go out and make the reflection of the leaves waver and shake, so he did. He undid the laces of his shoes and took off his shoes, then his socks. The edge of the lake was muddy except where the pine needles had gathered and he dug his toes into the mud and admired the rich color of it. He could very easily believe God had made the first man from this stuff, it was so rich, had so much life in it, so many crumpled trees. He pulled his shirt over his head and it mussed his hair and he smoothed it back down. Then his pants, one leg, two legs, off, then his underwear. He hesitated a second before taking off his underwear but just a second and then in complete silence (he thought this was a very grave moment, for some reason, a thing best done in silence) he dropped into the water and it closed over his bare limbs, and he let himself down slowly until it covered everything but his eyes and nose and the top of his head like a crocodile. He was very aware of how white his body was, how it must have changed the palette of the lake just before he went under. For some reason he thought of Troy, of the great warriors and demagogues of Homer and all the blood and shiny brass chariots and golden spearheads of that great battle, the dusty plain before the city gates stretching down to the sea. He wondered what it would have been like to have fought as a boy, a man, in that war, whether there were boys his age in that war who fought and made full use of their bodies in parries and twists and lunges with short bright swords, the greatest athletic feat of all, which is fighting to kill and trying your hardest to not be killed. He turned over and rolled in the water, pushed up from the muddy bottom with the white soles of his feet. He imagined what they must look like to the fish down there in the muck, two pillars uprooting themselves, kicking out, two thin trees lost in the water. He thought of fighting beside grizzled old warriors, Odysseus, Hector, of Diomedes performing great feats of strength, Ajax lifting a boulder ten times the weight of a man on his shoulder and sending it tumbling into a battalion, crushing jaws. He thought of how brilliant the blood of the men must be, in battle, maybe even as red as the leaves on the trees around the lake. He wished he could stay like this forever, naked in the water, closed in an envelope of silence, the water over everything. He thought about the empty gas can outside the house, the rusty screen door, the nail sticking up from the corner of the floorboard in the kitchen, the air slowly leaking from the hole in his bicycle tire, the almost invisible hiss. He dipped his head under the water completely for the first and last time so that his hair lay flat and black on his head, then stood up dripping and put on his clothes without drying and walked home.

Sendak

The phone rang, I picked it up,
held the receiver to my ear, on the line
the sound of geese honking, high up
in the air, tinny
through miles of cord.

What is God? Is He
all the leaves shaking in red autumn
on the trees outside in the night,
the fullness of the maple, the oak?

I am watching over and over
interviews with Maurice Sendak,
that unapologetic writer,
just before he died. He said
he was making a space for a good death.
He loved Blake, he loved his dog, Jennie.

“How do you explain,” he asks,
“loving somebody or something?
How do you explain that?”

I look at a woman I once loved
and feel nothing.
I want to get married, have kids,
do good by my wife, be
a God-fearing man, a decent man.

I want to write a children’s book
in the evenings on the porch swing,
be missed when I travel by plane.

I want young children
to ask me for a story, and be satisfied.
I want to read aloud to my children
and kiss them on the forehead at night.
I want to hold my wife’s hand in the kitchen
among the pots and pans, silver and copper,

to stand by a stream as an old man and look into it.
I remember the day Maurice Sendak died,
how I sat by my window, looking out at the trees,
the bright green. “Why bother getting born?”
Maurice asks. I don’t know how to end
this poem. It will never end. I will always
be writing this poem.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

shy, with roses

shy, with roses

RE: Instructions on the Discovery of Joy

People tell you to find perspective by

pulling out, seeing the big picture, getting

a bird’s eye view, when in fact we must sometimes

bend down on our hands and knees and crawl

in our blue jeans through the garden. The falcon, after all,

does not, when he circles the globe, pecking skyscrapers

and whisking cirrus clouds into a lather, see the earth as a whole,

as the astronauts do: Manila lit up like a thousand firecrackers

lying end to end, one oil tanker in the Atlantic holding

a candle above the waves, Rome dark as a tub. No,

they have incredible binocular vision, as any nature journal

will tell you, eyes that can see 10, 20,

100 times better than our own. Don’t you think

they might ever pass the cumulonimbus time

by spying on field mice in the grass, looking into their tiny

dark eyes, like peeking through the iris of a needle; finding

the car keys of the absentminded man in the red sweater,

reading the postman’s mail: the address, the addressee.

Can’t you imagine them delighting

in the small beautiful things of the everyday?

Think now of the dragonfly, blue as diamond,

that passed you this morning, late for something

but you don’t know what, checking his watch

and buzzing the hour to himself in starts and stops.

Or the leaf at the very top of the maple in front of you:

its yellow veins, the joy it takes in being

the hand of the tree reaching out into space

and caching light. Or the velvet button

on your favorite blouse, the one closest

to your heart, holding things in, containing as many threads

as cells in the eye of gnat; Hope walking over in a plaid shirt

with my words written across his name tag, lending you

the biggest magnifying glass in his vast collection, slipping

the smallest kiss into your eye.

 

For now we see through a glass, darkly; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Bread

Sometimes when I am feeling lonely at dinner
and everything seems cheap, and full
of dispassionate sex, fervent unbelief,
trivial small talk on weather that is not beautiful,
who is sleeping with whom but neither of them
I would sleep with myself – when I feel that way
I like to take a piece of whole wheat bread
from the deli in the dining hall, butter it well
and thickly, buttering it with all the dripping
glory of a blue sunset that I have been trying
to write a poem about for days, that I cannot describe
to anyone; the solid plainness of a low stone wall,
the curve of an oak in the early morning. I pretend
I am at my grandparent’s house in Olney
where there was always a basket of bread
on the table, covered with a pale pink cloth,
where I would take special pride in helping
to set things out for dinner, with the knives and forks
in their proper places, like the prayer before meals.
My grandmother when tucking us in
would pray quietly and softly for full sleep,
refreshing, faith, and brush the hair back
from my forehead, and kiss me goodnight,
even when I grew too old for her to remind me
to hang my towel on the banister to dry.
Today at the organ recital I turned to my friend
sitting next to me, a smooth face carved into the wood
of the pillar beside us listening in, and said that it sounded
like a freight train crashing into something, or a storm
on huge seas, with the organist the pilot at the helm
turning the whole sound into the waves.
Now I am sitting outside under a tree, watching
the sun set, catching mosquitoes in my hands
and letting them go again.

If

Use “epistemologically” naturally in a sentence
and I will shake your hand with a firm grip.

Use it twice in a persuasive essay
and I will pay your train fare for a month.

Put it in bold on the front of your Christmas card
and I will get drunk and sing love songs beneath your window.

Have it tattooed across your chest
and I will name my first born child after you.

Breathe it in and out, whisper it while you sleep,
and I will give myself to you, body and soul.

I will pull the shades down in our two room apartment
in Brooklyn, cup your cheek in my hands and kiss your face

sweetly, and then again, once for every word
in the dictionary, reading the definitions aloud, slowly,

until it is late and we are the only ones awake
in the whole city, and the moon rises in the sky

like a great white period, the one at the end
of the poem you read on the train that morning, the one

you thought was especially beautiful, and which captured
something of leaving, something of staying still,

of love and the small good things men do; the lamps coming on,
the pigeons falling asleep all at once in the eaves.