Monday, August 29, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Hurricane Season

The Queen Anne’s lace is tatty, unmended. A pair of paper whites waltz by, 

settling in the silver-gray sea moss. It’s dead low tide. The breeze has been

stripped of its scents--not the stink of the salt flats, nor fish beached for miles

in the seaweed’s garottes, knotted with raided mussel shells. Summer’s defeat 

is total. Above the marsh the air is charged--thunderheads already banked 

over the causeway, over chimneys in indigo towers, the blue about to boil

to black. They’re starting to pull in their boats at little marinas, up and down 

the fractals of the coast. At the top of the Crest, TV cameras are set to catch 

the furious Atlantic, surf hurling itself at the seawall, sending plumes sixty feet

in the air to roar in an arch over the width of the Boulevard, pounding cars 

and siding with relentless cataracts of stones. By the time she hits full force, 

I’ll be curled in bed inside the howl--no longer counting heartbeats between 

the thunder’s boom and incandescence splitting the sky.  The lightning’s flash

of blue powder will capture the marsh on out-dated glass negatives. A figure 

surfaces in the transparency, wearing the mist of a colorless rainbow across 

her shoulder like a quiver strap. Sand runs from my hair, salt stings my lips. 

It is Irene herself--both the named storm and the goddess of peace 

in her white gown--awaiting the unappeasable hurricane’s afterbirth.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Chrismaria

Rose of Sharons, daubed with Impressionists’ pink and mauve, hug the last
of the nineteenth century’s porches, leaning onto the little lanes that still
remember the way to the sea: Neptune, Mermaid, Coral, Siren, Undine.
The sky hangs over the town, a gray canvas, sagging like a long-abandoned
wedding tent. Who can light the windows of the dead? The breakers keep
trawling the rocks into troughs of rip tides, of undertow. I stand at the end
of the island, the salt’s eternal burn anointing my forehead, lips, heart,
hands and feet. I’ve forgotten every prayer I ever knew. But in a dream I hear 
Rivers of grace, circle back to your fountainheads, that each may run his course again.
And the surf’s wheel keeps churning the coastline’s endless granite ossuary.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How the Puritans Got Us, Robert Lowell's Version

Mr. Edwards and the Spider
I saw the spiders marching through the air,
Swimming from tree to tree that mildewed day
In latter August when the hay
Came creaking to the barn. But where
The wind is westerly,
Where gnarled November makes the spiders fly
Into the apparitions of the sky,
They purpose nothing but their ease and die
Urgently beating east to sunrise and the sea;

What are we in the hands of the great God?
It was in vain you set up thorn and briar
In battle array against the fire
And treason crackling in your blood;
For the wild thorns grow tame
And will do nothing to oppose the flame;
Your lacerations tell the losing game
You play against a sickness past your cure.
How will the hands be strong? How will the heart endure?

A very little thing, a little worm,
Or hourglass-blazoned spider, it is said,
Can kill a tiger. Will the dead
Hold up his mirror and affirm
To the four winds the smell
And flash of his authority? It’s well
If God who holds you to the pit of hell,
Much as one holds a spider, will destroy,
Baffle and dissipate your soul. As a small boy

On Windsor Marsh, I saw the spider die
When thrown into the bowels of fierce fire:
There’s no long struggle, no desire
To get up on its feet and fly
It stretches out its feet
And dies. This is the sinner’s last retreat;
Yes, and no strength exerted on the heat
Then sinews the abolished will, when sick
And full of burning, it will whistle on a brick.

But who can plumb the sinking of that soul?
Josiah Hawley, picture yourself cast
Into a brick-kiln where the blast
Fans your quick vitals to a coal—
If measured by a glass,
How long would it seem burning! Let there pass
A minute, ten, ten trillion; but the blaze
Is infinite, eternal: this is death,
To die and know it. This is the Black Widow, death.
Robert Lowell

Monday, August 15, 2011



Morning hasn’t fully come awake. The water is soft, a peacock blue,
not the deep shade in French cathedrals caught between leaded cames
like pieces broken from the sky. Two gulls quarrel over a mussel shell,
Frightened, the sanderlings run away. The tide is quietly going out,
but still pushes toward me the delicate lace of my First Communion veil
when we used to bless ourselves in the Holy Water font and genuflect,
solemnly clutching nickels for the collection. I touch my fingers to the salt 
and taste it. The sea grass whispers its mea culpas. It’s too early for the sun 
to be so scalding. The Host in its dazzling monstrance lifted heavenward
used to dizzy me so, I’d have to float down the aisle and try not to fall 
into the black specks before my eyes--sins the nuns already insisted
spoiled my immortal soul. In daylight, sobbing, at seven years old,
I contemplated St. Francis in the hedges, holding out his arms for birds 
to fly to him, all the loved animals crouched at his feet. St. Francis, let me be 
your little sparrow, saved. The east wind has come up. I hate that I shiver still. 
Immovable marble. The wooden Christ. I wonder how soon I will die.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Madonna Hill

To the east, the ocean bellowing, silent container ships slice the sky apart
from the horizon, passing Graves’ Light on their way into the knots
of islands in Boston Harbor. Before me, the marsh is waiting: rock pools 
full of mercury and zinc, and the salt-fed sea grass, exposed, a violent green. 
To the west at some distance and high above Orient Heights towers a shrine
dedicated to the Virgin, built into the top of the hillside. Crenellations of gold,
representing Her crown, surround the entire structure, not just the bronze 
and copper six-ton statue rising behind it. She stands barefoot on the globe, 
the veil and draperies held in her outstretched arms seem light in her embrace, 
as though all she held there might at any minute lift up in the sea breeze. 
The sculptor, an Italian Jew saved by monks from the Nazis, modeled her on
the Shroud of Turin, thinking the mother ought to bear a likeness to Her Son, 
but I’ve seen her calm features: she could be any Italian peasant girl
except from one side of the wide plaza, looking up, she seems to grieve--
acid rain has tarnished her cheeks with tears--but from the plaza’s other side
she seems suffused with love. How strange she’s turned her back on the sea,
on the city, and reaches out instead to pilgrims and a nursing home run by
the brothers of Don Orione, a twentieth-century Italian saint. They call her

Madonna of the Universe. I think of her feet upon the earth, that somewhere 
in the crooked, narrow streets of Boston are a hotel’s tobacco-colored rooms. 
Does her heavenly gaze take in what’s left of shredded curtains, bellying out
in the narcotic air like ghostly sails in the crumbling Seaman’s Mission?

Friday, August 5, 2011


I couldn't wait for Tuesday--so this is a Friday poem. I'm so happy that folks can still read my work--let's cross our fingers that Blogger will let people know when there's been a new post!!


I close my eyes and wait. The words enter my body, golden as chessman 
carved of flame that take their places on my black-and-white board.
I play against myself, but the figures seem to be engaged in a contest far older
than the Game of Kings. They obey other rules, as from an eerie dream.
The bishops, rooks and knights don’t keep their shapes. They turn into
falcons, Furies, gypsies, maids, Poseidon’s dolphins, panthers, kites.
I have to work to keep them tethered. I’m never given to know tactics, tricks
or strategies, only recognizing the finish when the fiery pieces cover the page
in a pleasing pattern, the figures of speech laying claim to their spaces. If
there are no moves left, I lay down my pen. That is how the Queen wins.