Mystic Failure

What mystic can come from south Jersey

where I was born in the 1960s

the same day a circus clown was slain?

Concrete realities have always intervened between me


& prophecy. I spent my summers

at the shore buying trinkets on the boardwalk,

eating my mother’s pancakes & scrapple

when we’d arrive home encrusted in sand,


smoldering from too much time in the sun.

I’ve tried to be a mystic, believe me.

When we were in the midst of a move,

my sister, brother, & I slept at our grandmom’s


Delran apartment where one night I dreamt

I saw a man at her sliding glass door, ready

to rob the place, & I awoke to find

yes, a man with forehead on the glass,


peering in. I claimed ESP but my family,

scientists all, refused to believe. I tried

some more in the Poconos where we’d go

to see my greats, Uncle Herb & Granddad George,


& I’d wander off to the meadow’s edge,

stroll into the hollow where milkweed & white asters,

Jack-in-the-Pulpit & Solomon’s seal,

broomsedge & bee balm & black-eyed Susans


congregated before my eyes, & my first poems

rose in my throat. But I spoke no predictions,

contacted no spirit inhabiting the woods

beyond the bite of burs.


I kept trying later on to extract

ecstasies from my senses during prayer

or perceive the face of Jesus in our garden-

state but instead had to discover


ways to survive three hours of preaching

on Good Fridays. Every now & then,

a hymn or psalm could inspire me

to reach for something beyond


pew or podium, but then my friend

would pinch me, her fingernails

reminders to be practical.

Like the choice of a career.


Mystic just never entered into it.

Such were the suburbs I grew up in,

with my stay-at-home Mom, who read me

an illustrated Bible & marched


with my father in D.C. demanding

not peace but Victory in Vietnam.

O, my political father, Bircher who took me

to canvas neighborhoods for Schmitz in ’72.


(Everyone was a communist to him,

including Nixon, & when everything’s

a harbinger of dangers yet to come,

nothing is prophetic.) That day, no signal


warned that a German Shepherd would

lunge at me, barking madly behind its fence,

scaring every leaflet from my clasp, my scream

spurring my Dad to tear across the road


to comfort me. What room was there for mystery

amid such certainty powered by the long-

drawn-out red scare & its gory corpses?

What room for ethereal signs when my body began


its betrayals, my first surgery at 10, followed again

by more & more? I was just trying to stay alive.

Besides, I worshipped my Dad who held

my hand through all the pain & vomit,


all the fear, who told me without hesitation

that he loved me. He was enough back then,

& so was Mom, who taught Sunday School

to kids with flannel graphs about Moses & Noah,


men who took their orders straight from God,

whose voice—was it too much to ask?—

I wished I also could hear

with the Philly accents echoing in the air.

soft girl, sharp edges