Friday, May 15, 2015

Inner Courtyard, Strandgade 30 (Vilhelm Hammershoi), Sonnet #243

I assume these windows look on others,
But not the one I'm looking through at them.
The pupil, an irradiated gem,
Reflects upon each pane and its brothers.
A hundred years old, once a glazier's pride,
The lights have been etched by wind, dust, and rain,
By the hard scrubbing at faint time's stain,
And the gaze of hundreds who've long since died.
One window, open, catches the late sun.
As if in lonely rebellion, it flares,
Illuminating a room: no one's there.
Nothing moves. There is nothing to be done.
I close the window with a single thought.
What we see through is never what we've sought.

Monday, May 4, 2015

St. Michael Weighing Souls (Kartner Meister), Sonnet #242

No soul weighs more than the flesh it impounds.
It grows with time, then begins to vanish,
Looks less like a soldier than how one sounds,
Marching off. God of beginnings, Ganesh,
Blasts his trumpet at the birth of the child,
As Michael weighs its soul for the first time.
The devil scoffs, his self-righteousness riled,
Skulks nearby, shields his eyes from the sublime.
The child, perfectly weightless, is handed
To Buddha, and with one hand slap, branded.
Eighty years on, he again stands naked
In the balance, whispers a list of seers,
Of those who loved his soul for its own sake,
Then, like devils long ago, disappears.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

With The Eagle (Klee), Sonnet #241

He can be only the smallest part of our lives.
Over the years I've watched him not even a day.
In spring, circling a pond near leafless woods, he dives
And, skimming the water, dips his talons -- his prey,
A small bass. He lands on a dead tree and devours
All in seconds. Motionless, he'll rest there for hours.
When the trees leaf out he is much harder to see.
A nest, big as a pram, disappears, and his mate,
Whom he uxoriously trades nesting duty,
Will fly off to hunt for herself what he just ate.
The eagle sees me more clearly than I see him.
He doesn't care for me, so I remain a dim
Apparition he never completely ignores,
From caution, a mystery he never explores.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I Have, I Had (Matta), Sonnet #240

When they gut old buildings, first they divide
Them into mountains of aluminum
And copper, structural steel and gypsum --
Then the ponderous wrecking ball collides.

One birthday, I received a lead army,
Painted soldiers, heavy, but pliable.
I broke the head off of one and, to my
Surprise, they all broke. Who was liable?

We wasters of yesterdays! Of sorrows
Our dying memory dimly borrows!
The meteorite I held in my hand,
The man who pointed a gun at my head,
As of today have been thoroughly banned
From being, soon being nothing I've said.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Two Goats (Gustave Dore), Sonnet #239

In Memory of Jim McNiece

A cataract has cloven the mountain
For centuries -- unnumbered leaves and stones,
Ripped tree limbs, clots of mud, and broken bones,
Fall for miles in the deafening fountain.
A sycamore tree topples in a burst
Of lightning, and forms a treacherous bridge
From a mossy patch to a granite ridge.
Two old goats cross (neither arriving first)
And butt heads at the middle of the tree,
Gently, a nudge, a token of greeting,
Of grudging respect, then a wild bleating
Of hatred and threat. There'll be no treaty.
Only one backs up for a running start.
The other charges, blasts his hornlike heart.

Jim McNiece was my writing teacher and dear
friend at Northern Illinois University. He was
a merciless editor, expunging the lazy, prolix,
or innaccurate word or phrase. I thought of him
as I rewrote this poem many times. We also
butted heads more than once.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spring (Jean-Fran├žois Millet), Sonnet #238

The winters harden these years, and the snow,
Feet of it even in March, melting slow
In tepid, foggy air, washes our dregs
Into the broken river. The aging
Magnolia in the yard, stung by frost,
Still blossoms, only a few petals lost.
Now begins the long-deferred uncaging
Of sun and sex and bud and leaf and eggs.
My Ruthie and I walk the park most days
And notice, after thirty years, it says
What it always has, that it's merely ours
To wander and watch and never to touch.
Inside a log a young kit fox cowers;
Above, the barred owl's talons shift and clutch.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Floor Scrapers (Gustave Caillebotte), Sonnet #237

The worker who can concentrate,
Lose himself in the hardest task,
Scrapes up time at double the rate,
Creating what? He doesn't ask.
Muscles are meant for heat and toil,
The eyes for precise measurement,
The voice for whispering contempt,
Listening, for the night bell's toll.
It takes a man to scrape a floor.
(God offers no alternative.)
He will go to bed drunk and sore,
Not knowing what it means to live.
The half-finished floorboards await
The restoration of their fate.