Saturday, May 12, 2012

Todesblumen

One part of my family -- the Diebolds who fled Alsace in 1870 to get away from the Prussians and came to Western Pennsylvania -- retained some of their folk beliefs. One of them was a belief in the personage of The Grim Reaper. I was told of Death coming and knocking three times on a window just as a great aunt died. I used to carry buckets of water from the nearby spring to my great-grandmother's house, and some of those memories blended with the old wives' tale...

Todesblumen


A woman is dying inside,
nestled in quilts and soft pillows.
On the path from the spring,
lit by the eye of an elder moon,
her nephew returns with full wooden buckets.
By the barn, he stares at the tarpapered house.
The kerosene light from the sick room
falls on a trellis: he sees what the women
had whispered about in the kitchen —
that rose abloom in December.

(They reverted to German, called it
Todesblumen, death’s flower bloom,
would not speak of it where Aunt Lena lay,
though she might see, if she looked, a yard
from the house, where it opened.)

Raising his buckets to clear a snowdrift,
the boy hastens by the sickbed window, and there —
white, whiter than snow, without shadow,
but solid, a stark figure steps into the light.
From shapeless robes a skeletal hand emerges:
the shivered rose crumbles, falls petal by petal.
The hand extends further on ghost-white fore-arm.
Now at the window comes the tap-tap-tapping
of Death, and wind, and the barren trellis
shakes. Then nothing, and silence, and then
the keening cry from the women inside.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mineral Beauty


An exquisite poem about the beauty of the inanimate by the great Barbara A. Holland.

WHEN STONES HAVE SHED THEIR SKINS

by Barbara A. Holland

Who can say there are no souls in stones,
and who can look at Kunzite
and say that they have bodies,
gauze ripped from the garments of the sun,
a plumage shed by luminous
transparent birds, spent splinters of the morning,
mineral and miracle, held at its climax
in a sheath of stone,
gossamer against its ending?

Youth, northern, frangible inside
drops of blue opal as if dawn had bled
its earliest moments, as if clots of sky
concealed in stone, had been preserved
before the daylight killed it;
all the weathers of the world in quartz;
mist depths of white sand shallows in aquamarine
on frost of breath inside a shell of stone
take life from light and strain at carapace
until the day its long endurance breaks
before eternal pressure from within,

Who would be surprised? Not even God
would have expected it!
What must the winds bear up
when stones have hatched:
what wings shall fan
the cold fires of the stars
or beat to warmth the white
heart of the moon
when stones have shed their skins?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Squanto's Wind (Revised)

Boston's John Hancock Tower, constructed in the 1970s, was one of the world's worst architectural disasters. The foundation undermined adjacent buildings, and ten thousand window panes began popping out and falling onto pedestrians below; and the whole building swayed sickeningly in the wind. In this poem I recount some of the building's disastrous details, and speculate about whether some angry Native American spirit might be getting even with Boston. I invoke Squanto, the first Native American to greet the arriving Puritans. By one of the most bizarre coincidences in all history, Squanto had previously been captured, enslaved, and gone to Europe and back, so that he was able to greet the arriving colonists with the words, "Welcome, Englishmen!"
I did a little digital art piece for this too, combining Squanto's portrait with the cursed tower.



Squanto’s Wind


A ruffian wind
content till now to move
through barricades of steel
to tug of sea,
forgetful of forest and creek,
rears up at last,
howls No emphatically
at the Hancock tower,
a block as gray as greed,
lunging from bedrock to sky.
The primal No acquires more force,
plucks glass like seeds
from a ruptured grape.
The window panes explode a million shards
of architectural sneeze
scattered by gravity
to punctuate the streets
with gleaming arrowheads,
obsidian spears,
black tomahawks
of dispossession. 
What Manitou is this
who shakes his fist
at the barons of finance?
Whatever happened to
“Welcome, Englishmen!”
(the first words spoken
by Native to Puritan)?
The engineers move in,
revise their blueprints
while covered walkways
protect pedestrians
from Hancock’s continued
     defenestration.
Months pass, and yet
a lingering wind remains,
circling the sheltered walks,
lapping at plywood sheets,
a sourceless gale
that ruffles Bostonians
with its reiterated cry,
not on this land you don’t.
On really windy days
the whole tower sways
and workers turn green
from motion sickness.
Millions are spent
on a countersliding bed
of lubricated lead
to gyro the floor to apparent
stillness; millions more
from the slap-suited builders
on fifteen hundred tons
of diagonal braces,
all to to stop
the whole ziggurat
f
rom an inevitable topple,
should 
just one wind,
at just one angle

bring everything down
in a snarl of pretzeled girders.
Finally all ten thousand panes
are one by one, removed
and one by one replaced. 
Is Squanto satisfied
that the tower was sold,
that the new owners slid
to bankruptcy (at least
on paper), though bankers slide
from one debacle to another
and earn baronial bonuses? 
No! His feathered face frowns
on clouded-over golf days.
His never-tiring gusts divert
the errant baseball, ensuring
decades of home-game dejection. 

It will take more than
double-dug foundations,
wind-tunnel-tested
new window panes,
to still these vectors of rage.
Token pow-wows at shopping malls
and suburban parks
do not fool old Squanto:
sharp-dealing and inhospitable,
Boston must pay!
Revised 5/12/2012

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