Sky a glossy blue, Fra Angelico clouds
puffing up, as though the divine lady might
step through a bright gap toward us,
take a turn in the garden
with the child on her hip holding the world,
and her blue hem trailing in the clover.
An oriole on the maple inserts that slice of song,
opening and immaculate
like the light underneath the leaves.
None of us does anything to deserve
this lush world’s loveliness,
nor even a single sumac insistent through
cracks of city cement,
or the tree-of-heaven’s parasol
shading the razed grey lot.
Not this glad choir,
not this garden’s perfumed green nave.
The eight a.m. train sends out its concertina-squeeze,
sound of the passing-by world
hustling forward to its tomorrow, but
leaving its sound behind like the last great lonely beast
of the Cretaceous, calling across the marshes.
I sit in the perfect interval between times and places,
watching a chipmunk holding a hazelnut in its two
tiny paws, a posture like prayer
and who’s to say it’s not,
when the whole day offers itself up this way,
the Shekinah strolling among the lilies
brushing the leaves with her hand?
The Garden of Olives
Pilgrims cross oceans to come and weep here
under the sukkah of silvery latticed leaves
where modernity has struggled to cultivate
roses in the dust. A parley of doves
rises voluble in the church’s eaves —
the one that makes peace its business. But too late
for such marvels. The signals are unclear.
These twisted old olives are a substitute
for older, similar trees. We are content
these days with likeness. One or two great boulders —
so that no angel might think to roll away —
have been set in one foundation in cement
fixed safely under the church’s sloping shoulders,
the ancient sorrow, petrified and mute.
But as the trauma doctors like to say:
that catastrophe is finished and past.
No need to keep reliving grief or omission.
That’s never what our beloved dead would ask.
Go forward and love in lightness, live today,
if chastened, then unburdened. Sleep again.
The Marble Stair
Have you ceased to be surprised
at the places hunger takes you?
Down the slope, and up the marble stair,
the cupped and yellowed steps
to that gate in from the Kedron valley
from the Olive-Mount, where the privileged
dead molder restlessly, waiting for the first cries,
to throw back their cracked slabs and rise.
Now, as always before, there is,
and will be, waiting, in a garden
idling among the small connubial glories
of the hummingbird and rose
between the tree trunks where even the terrified
doze on the days before catastrophes.
The valley road snakes back on itself, around
the Orthodox dome gleaming like a milk-wet breast.
Tourists process alongside vans laden down
with day-laborers and goods, then turn off to the East
and upward path, mapping their shortest route
to the next monument or vantage for selfies:
Here, Jesus and I perspired and prayed.
Over there, under the dome, and by that plaque, he died.
The guide told us so.
What you find, you find, is always less
than you were seeking, but more than you know.
Old cities build on top of themselves like eagle-nests,
thrusting up and shifting the markers, raising new spires,
displacing their dark and fond histories.
Maps fill with imaginings and lost desires.
You, yearning for authenticities,
you are the door you are looking for.
Sit for a moment — there, with me,
like any heat-wearied Roman banished
to the provinces. This stone has not vanished
into time. Christ to Caiphas, Jezebel to Judas, everyone
toiling from Olivet into Jerusalem, rests
a foot on this tired, anonymous stone.
If you are someone God talks to
over the Maxwell House and cornflakes daily,
you won’t need words from me.
If your King James falls obediently open
and your finger alights on gospel
pruned just for you without aid of eyes,
you will think me querulous,
or alarmingly unconvincing and unconvinced,
a lighthouse perpetually semaphoring:
don’t come too near. Here there may be rocks and ruin.
Magnetic North is on the move.
Mercy may be a cauterizing blade.
What I am hallooing to your boat is,
what if the hand calms not the storm
but the fear? Hang on.
What makes us think we want to arrive
under the tree having seen all the unwrapped presents
in the closet?
I hope I die packed for a journey
without having figured anything out
not even the figurative prefigured. Up for grabs.
Rapt. Why should you listen to me?
I don’t know what home is
beyond that certain color in the hills
our car once went past but never stopped.