From “The Flower,” by George Herbert
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain
And relish versing: O, my only Light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
You thought you were doing your best.
Be that as it may, you’re different today
after scores of years of living
in this singular body, this rescued soul.
Dedicate yourself as never before.
Sweep clean the house and prepare it to be
an altar, a table, where God comes down
where the first is last
and the last is best withal.
In the woods today I thought of you
heading for the Outer Isles alone.
The weather forecast bodes well––
only a chance of a thunderstorm––
but we both know the quirks
of coastal weather, the zephyr
that suddenly becomes a blow
roiling the green Atlantic below
upending smaller skiffs caught in its grip
as we ourselves were once caught
and tossed as flotsam onto a chance shore.
So maybe you understand my concern
how I wish you safe beneath our roof
bounded by woods and subject to wind
yes, but protected by sheer tree-ness
standing between us and everything weather.
24 inches head to tail, the snake
camouflaged in leafy detritus was couched
in the shadow of a looming hemlock.
Eye met eye and I was held for
moments by what seemed intelligence,
frightening in its mythic associations
circling my head like deerflies in July.
I broke off focus and walked away.
I’d been stared down but didn’t mind,
refocused as I was on the sunlit road ahead.
Beware of the dog reads the hand-lettered
sign, nailed onto the broken railing,
the warning necessary lest one mis-
step out of human pity leaves behind
a severed hand, a mind messed with
a soul compromised by this hopeless dog.
Everyone is being called
out into their lives, those lives lying
about like Victorian women
suffering from neurasthenia
and learning through their suffering
that they are the shapers of those lives
for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.
All parts of the self wedded, they take the field.
No clank of iron on iron.
No bang of a dump truck’s dropped tailgate.
No tumble of four-foot lengths of wood to the ground.
No chorus of skidder or snowplow engines
severally humming or grinding alive
in the pre-dawn cold of late December––
All of this gone to Florida with the neighbors.
Blessed silence drifts down, and grateful
we walk the snowy ground, relieved of the constant
sound of what it means to make a living here in Maine.
My head is full of poetry not my own.
With Tennyson’s Sir Bedivere I mourn
for Arthur, going forth in his black barge,
his bloodied head resting in the lap of a queen,
barely alive but admonishing us
to pray for his immortal soul.
Herrick admonishes in other words,
to gather rosebuds while we may
for tomorrow those very same flowers
will die, as one day so will you and I.
But then to Donne, stripped bare of career
for love of a girl. He speaks hope to her
and so to us:
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.