Poetry by Sean M. Conrey from The Word in Edgewise
Animating the Ruin
Enough of this trying age of buying things:
let’s knot some words into the thing dying closest,
and when the onus falls, let’s shuffle the jokers
back into the deck, paint dancesteps on sidewalks
and sing the whole way, teaching tunes
that lead to bold dancing. In light of such majesty,
junkyard trumpets are raised and bellow their call:
the time has come for harmonicas. Let’s walk
the interstate medians in graceless highwire decadence
till the highway’s a logjam of left-behind cars,
the parking lot’s full of fire pits, tents
and tambourines. Pilgrims all, let’s take the reins
of black and white horses and drive well again.
By God what a racket worth hearing we’ll make.
It starts with a long shot, the beach almost white,
the water’s edge pulled far below the tide mark.
For a second or two the camera pulls in on a dot,
a man so far in the distance it’s unclear it’s a man,
standing in perfect posture, vertical and still
facing east, where the wave builds into a fist.
The camera’s rushed to higher ground, scans
only briefly back to the shore as it tilts up stairs
intended surely for a safe escape from a fire,
now leading up to the balconies and roof where
tourists shout and point, their voices ripping.
By now the wave is clearly in view, the camera
holder says, in what must be Swedish, Look, there!
turning back, steadily holding another moment
on the dot, still standing but now leaning in a little.
The water washes him like dust on a patio away
and by then, the camera’s on the move again.
Below, an old couple scrounge for a rail or ball,
a truck licks against a wall, its bed full of children,
the pool fills with mud, a woman grabs a ladder,
a boat with a family somehow in it glides by quietly.
But these we all see, and the calamity is so clear.
They died or didn’t die. Some lived to say they saw
their homes, the swimming pool, the bare dirt
walkway to the shore they’d trod for days before
all sweep by. The old couple are surely dead.
The children in the truck bed, probably, too. So
why, when dwelling after, months past, now,
do I return instead to the indistinguishable dot
who walked out only when the earthquake settled
and the water receded and the warnings blared?
While others wildly sought stairs and rooftops
and hillside gardens to clamber to, he instead said,
“Enough, already. A will greater than my own to live
has made my life a gift and gives me a choice.”
How rare a soul with foresight enough to share
that with us, we who, as he stood staring calmly,
scrambled away in a fury and were left strangely
behind in his wake, reminded of what? Water?
We Wait Patiently
The light breaking through
the tough black rolls of clouds,
so firm and fat with rain,
marks the sky behind them
like a bruise, a bruise like God gives
when He paddles the world’s ass.
And the ark in the distance
tilts to one side
as elephants stand, watching
the ocean lift
a humid white to the horizon
where the sun rises, red.
And an olive’s topmost branch
finally bends in the wind
till the dove breaks it,
flies across the crest
to everyone standing on deck—
Not waiting, really,
rather watching the sunrise fiercely,
the first in forty days,
as yet without our bearings.
A Prayer for Nola
Lord, the river’s feet tripped till
it filled the streets with trembling,
then soft, hot silence for days—
if we could see, really see,
your calm and quiet, these gnats
drifting on the river’s long neck—
if we could see the river without us,
all solitude without loneliness,
we’d learn the first of all joys—
a chalk-handed nun whispers
for us to hear it, too. Listen and stare,
she says, learn the good fear—
it brings us into our skin, alone
and ready for love in spite of it all.
On Scripture, Water and the Vegetal Realm
I’ve found reasons to distrust reason’s
power to cull meaning from lilies
that clutch at the soil for days
before breaking through. The overlay
of a few facts and geometry’s thin
vacancies hint an outline, mint copies
on the page but fail to fill in the gaps.
Consider a waterfall’s pool moving
(clearly it’s so: the oak leaves drift),
and in this evident slowness we point,
saying what we see, naively believing
words and things are fully requited,
never virgins, the knots in the text
twisted through water, leaf and word,
bowline perfect, however they’re said
they’re always and still making love.
Consider how easily we overwrite:
The trees on shore bend black in the wind,
the river’s sewer breaks a waft across
in a thin ripple trilling the trees and then
the voice of a small white sail catching.
This is all in the wind? We may say so,
but the breeze falls like a pheasant:
a seven-man firing squad’s had its way.
Hold the botany book near the lily,
the lens flares as we focus from one
to the other: the page, a petal, the page,
the stamen, the page that digresses
at length on the anther and others
that detail the style and the stigma
and by then we’ve lost the poor flower
before us in favor of the scripture.
Sound advice would be: don’t mistake
a finger for the flower it points to.
And are words fingers or the memory
strings tied round fingers? Maybe
they’re lassos that span the otherwise
cold distance from hands to flowers?
Does folding our hands in prayer
weave their weft in the lily’s warp?
How many eyes does the page absorb
in church, men in stained-glass light
looking at the dance of black and white
like teenagers texting at Niagara Falls.
Magnificent bastard, I read your book!
Why in hell would we choose to be
born again between the white thighs
of some book when, if we just look up,
what we’ve read is busy being born?
Anxiety in the Garden of Weeds
Where underneath the plastic sheets
there winds a root around a rock;
where over the rise the creek bend silts
and builds the waterworn weeds in silence;
where some thread tugs my ear to listen
to the wind’s news of my children asleep;
where love nets me from setting adrift,
though I’m alone in a city of millions;
when starting, a bird lifts its wings on a wire
and settles closer to the glass bell;
when bracing for the water’s cold,
so too the step forward, so too the wince;
when chalklines snap to gauge how lines
can make the bent world seem bearable;
where snow films black and shivers in
to whet some stone’s edge again;
where in the weeds trodden long before snow
the snapped stick says the hunt was on;
when in the meltwater a mineral stirring
warms and cues a clutch of seeds to split;
when topside the sun draws a thistle
on its course, a child watching her parent;
where women share a common match
with the moon’s reliable candle;
where bricklayers and stonemasons pave
roads woven in stone, threaded with mud;
when the tea of a saltmarsh pours light
and calm through reeds bent and broken;
what time is made of when furious children
throw bikes and books over bridges;
what a distance that shadow made
when we stood cold that day, remember;
where the hollow wrap of a blanket
riddled with leaves sits rotting riverside;
what the lake was like before the storm,
before lightning struck its far edge;
how many berries round the tree fell
and blew this way against odds;
where the oak canopy caps its dark over
and irons a smudge of mud this long;
how often that cold wave crested
before some boat came by to part it;
where we walk right past the sidewalk’s
old concrete hands without seeing;
when I made like I was gauging the sun,
held my thumb up to dampen its cornice;
when waking, the rattle from yesterday
comes back and clamors all the more;
where glass shattered in view of heaven
and fell, setting us back some years;
what light this is some mornings waking
and god I cannot see it, or my part.
The stone, still
in the water,
after many years
to itself, but still
writes the rill
so it fills a deep
hole and scoops
the bank, darkly
marking a place
fully out of reach
from the dock
where we sit
saying so little
and stone still.