As the world became pointless, I did nothing
differently, dressing for church and school,
bowing my head, raising my hand to answer.
Without symbols, sermons were post cards that kept
arriving like mail while my father
kept teaching our yard, our porch, the closest woods,
assigning me the nearby, natural world
to memorize, names I recited
the way I mumbled the words of hymns and creeds.
I didn't descend anywhere but the porch
where one bulb glared because the fixture
had cracked—In July, I still sat in the dark
or under a cluster of moths that believed,
he said, a lamp is the moon, choosing
their course from its light, keeping it angled to
their right, and then, too close to be guided, they
circled until that warm moon held them
to the difficult flight of instinctive faith.
The Leukemia Student
While my father and his brothers argue
The A bomb to Moscow, their wives hush them
With pig's feet and liverwurst, olive loaf
And summer sausage, three-bean salad,
Pickled eggs and my mother's brief prayer
That blesses our food and the wisdom
Of God "that passes all understanding."
And as we eat, one aunt insists the crow
That lit on her clothes post stared sickness
Through her son's west window, that she knows
The same one returned, this week, with death.
She passes the oil of sardines, blind
Robins salted by the wisdom of God.
And later, when my father scatters
Twenty of his records on the carpet,
The crow's luck past all understanding,
I become the four year-old who can
Choose the requested 78s,
Not reading, because I've fixed the color
Of labels to the shape of titles,
Selecting, by memory, the tunes
His brothers want to hear, handing up
The next one, then the next, as perfect
As the wisdom of God, passing all
Understanding and receiving praise
In one of the three upstairs rooms we rent
In Etna, in 1950, after
My cousin, twice my age, has been buried
With books in each hand for his lessons,
Taking homework to heaven, according
To his mother, who claps when I finish,
As if I am brilliant, able, if asked,
To certify the wisdom of God,
What passes all understanding, by
Sorting an eternity of records.
After playing solo trombone at the old folks' home,
After completing "Abide With Me" from memory,
Repeating it when I heard that room full of women
Begin to sing along, I watched each of them receive
One ribboned package to open for "Summer Christmas."
Even I, eleven years old, knew those presents were
Stockings, all of those women holding them, not stripping
The away-in-a-manger paper, those flat boxes
Lying in their laps like relief maps of the fifteenth
Century world, those women knowing their fingers were
Sailing right up to the gift-wrapped edge of the ocean
Where memory washes like a string of buoys set
To signal how the decorated brink of the world
Drops steeply into the darknesses of new stockings.