Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.
v. 1 “O, Worship the King”
The hymn we sang at the knee of our mother
who taught us the harmonies learned
in her childhood, who rejoiced in the sound
of her daughters singing, singing the worship
of God, the Ancient of Days.
Truest of all the titles of God, whose eye
is that of the oldest elephant present
on the day of creation; an eye not so weighty
with justice as mercy, a compassion so deep
it disappears into the heart of one who sees it,
to be mined only for God’s adornment and purpose.
The first pounding rumble of thunder
announces the beginning of spring today––
April 4, the 130th birthday of my grandmother
Hannah Maki. Wherever her sauna is now
may she know her life celebrated, who in 1908
braved the cold swells of the North Atlantic
to reach America through the seaport of Quincy,
Mass., where Finnish laborers worked the quarries;
where Finnish girls and Finnish women, known
for their strong character, worked in the houses
of Quincy families, cleaning, cooking, sewing,
singing songs of a homeland they would never
see again. My mummo among these valiant
Finns gets my attention with this April storm;
she who embodied sisu, and implanted it
in my own mother, who passed it on to us her
children in the genes of our hidden souls.
*sisu: Perseverance in the face of great odds,
associated with Finns and Finland.
I lay this salver down before you
with the song I sing a thing of gold
upon it, my intention to please in
an act of love. Like Farmer Hoggett
in the movie Babe, who sang and danced
the pig back to health, I would if I could
dance for you like David before the Ark
where you dwelt alone. Would you
feel less alone with my song? sung
in a voice old and unpracticed?
and what I have to offer
to you whom I love.
Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph,
I say quietly throughout the day
as wandering thoughts plead
and pray for a full response
from the whole family.
An exclamation early learned
as exasperation with circumstance
has transmuted into intercession.
Only today did I see and hear
what I said and say as prayer, not
imprecation. May that understanding
mean years of cursing redeemed.
I thought you exclaimed, Oh, my dear,
and quickly my mind bent toward trouble.
But trouble had nothing to do with you
when the spelling of “dear” became deer––
Five of them in a pretty line, crossing
the field to the other side of the road
from whence they disappeared
into the stand of pines.
The keen return of taste
the sound ear hearing clearly
the grandchild’s song––
To know spring in the smell
of earth and see the robins
run in a burst of color––
All of it clings burr-like
to the lining of memory.
You outlived many but then it was you
for whom death came, thirsty, a-search
and drinking you quickly lest the glass spill
and anything of you be lost.
As poet-survivor among your peers
the task of memorializing had fallen to you
again and again, in memory of Richard,
of Tom, of John Hewitt …
in Seeing Things; they rise again
under your pen to life for us
in poems filled with your humanity
still wholly intact.