Monthly Archives: November 2012

The shepherds on the trolley

In the midst of all the holiday rush this week, there was an amazing story in our local paper about a woman who gave birth to her baby while on the local interurban trolley. Musing about this story, I pieced it together with a fragment from Philip Larkin’s poem “Days” in the form of a glosa.

 

The shepherds on the trolley

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
[Philip Larkin]

A girl gave birth in Goshen
on the trolley yesterday
right outside the courthouse.
She said nothing like this
had ever happened to her before,
and to be fair, it was unusual
for all the other passengers as well.
But why on earth was she giving birth alone
in front of that grand governmental bastion?
Ah, solving that question

could drag a friendly conversation
into politics or sociology
all of the dark arts broken free from
anchors in reality. She must have been
on drugs or didn’t use protection.
We raise the dreaded specter
of the welfare state to put her in her place.
But really any proper telling of this holy story
of the bus-born child and the girl who rocked her
brings the priest and the doctor

long before the yard signs and the
focus groups. For here’s the miracle:
we have a child not left behind.
A host of ordinary saints embrace
with great compassion the miracle
before their eyes, this fellow-traveler who dotes
upon her newborn, nestled in a crèche
between the seats. These put to shame
the glad-handing talking heads still chasing votes
in their long coats

with talk of census numbers, tax adjustments,
of sacrifice for everyone except themselves.
Ask the children now, and the neighbors,
with their noses pressed against
the glass – ask them if it matters
even slightly if some
stuffed up suit wields
the sword of morality. They’ll tell you:
every life is sacred, every fresh beginning,
every wave of hope a baby’s first cry yields
running over the fields.

 

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Our real work

Over at Poetic Asides, the November Poem-A-Day challenge is in full swing. Last Thursday, the prompt was to talk back to a poet. I chose to respond to Wendell Berry, not in disagreement but rather in appreciation. His poem The Real Work begins:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work.

This slightly awkward rondeau is my response.

 

Our real work

Our real work puts on a hat and knits
outside a café, takes a drag and spits
into the wind, grinning like it can see
something we don’t – about mortality,
futility, about the shoe that fits

so perfectly we love it while it splits
our soul like weathered skin, until it hits
us in this stranger’s gaze – this cannot be
our real work!

And we are empty, scared out of our wits
by ticking clocks, by love, by snake-filled pits
we never chose. The figure strikes a knee
and we both laugh at our absurdity,
and then trade hats, while on the table sits
our real work.

 

Blaze

 

Not so long ago, I inherited a coat that had belonged to a far-flung relative.  I learned a lot about him from what I found in the pockets.  The more I learned, the more I appreciated the man.  I wrote this villanelle in his honor.

 

Blaze

The coat is surely from his east coast days
those years in Boston no one talks about
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.

I find a matchbook from the nightclub BLAZE
unopened in a pocket – without doubt
the coat is surely from his east coast days.

I think of him on stage, the thick-breathed haze
above his head and how the crowd would shout
when he untied the strings a thousand ways,

so far from home, a farm boy in that maze
of all that drugs and rock n roll could spout.
The coat is surely from his east coast days

and now I smile to think of all the ways
he honored her along that sacred route
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.

I treasure every unstruck match that says
some people love home best by getting out.
The coat is surely from his east coast days
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.

 

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