from Incarnality: The Collected Poems (Eerdmans, 2010)
Peacock Sighted Against A Bright Background of Snow
As he spreads and flashes his tail, I look
into its thirty staring eyes unfurled and remember
they are to be seen but see nothing -- distractions
evolved in the glacial light of ice-age winters
to lure hens and scare off half-wit predators.
I think I see directly his blazings
of hot copper, icy teal, green, red, blue.
I don’t. He carries no pigments,
only reflections from little unseen bubbles –
optical interference phenomena
is how science classifies this miracle
of colors that move and change. I circle
around him to catch the display from every angle,
and my eyes, blinded by light, absorb again
the assurance of something unseen.
From A Slender Grace (Eerdmans, 2004)
Welcome to New Era, Michigan
Founded 1887 Pop. 1,214
Come Worship with us
A few Saturday women in their habits of denim
early cross the aisles of our only supermarket.
Behind the walls of awakened houses, others
push and pull the wheezing lungs of vacuums,
blending a choir of voices that hymn the town
to rid itself of the dust of one more week.
Breakfast waits for children quietly bowed
before the flickering lights of colored screens;
they make no sign of disbelief or belief
in the flying and falling figures who squeal
and boom in voices from other worlds.
Men of the town, with two days off, commune
by exchanging muffled laughs and grunts
under the hoods of each other's idling pickups,
while the glacial old lake, beyond the dunes,
falls to its knees and lays it hands on our shore,
up and down, and now the teens rise from their beds
to begin their seventh-day pilgrimage
toward the inland shopping mall three towns away.
From The Eighth Day (Dryad Press)
On Vacation, Teaching Bass
Where is your self-respect?
I stood at your pond the last two dawns
under a dissonance of birds doing their bird-thing,
and I did my teacher-poet-at-leisure-thing, my fisherman-thing,
but you weren’t doing your bass-thing at all.
I don’t mind not existing; I understand about that;
I’m like anti-matter poking in, or God. Okay.
but the colors and whirrs that I pulled
through your world on transparent lines
were images, meant to do something, programmed through your genes
for millions of years.
Look. When you see that wounded wobble of red and white stripes
that I call a Daredevil lure, you’re supposed to lunge
and strike – or at least get curious and follow.
but on casts and retrieves with just the right flash, vibration, and turning
I could see down there some thirty of you
shrug in your fishy way without the slightest shock of recognition
Wake up! Have you no collective unconscious?
Take my Mepps Anglia #2 Spinner (which none of you did take):
it was assaulting two of your senses at once (not to mention your watery dreams),
it was ‘the feel and body of the awareness that it presents’ –
and there you stood, slowly waving pectoral fins,
as though you were trying to think, like pre-engineers.
A lure should not mean, but be!
The three of you dullards I did catch
went for fat, stock-response, mere-prosey worms.
One more thing. When I set my hook and get you on the line,
don’t just go limp and come up unastonished.
You’re supposed to seize the image and run with the line, tug
(I keep the drag on my reel set light; you can probably hear it sing),
run hard, break the skin between our two worlds, twist and shimmy in the air,
then arc and dive down deep. Keep tugging! That’s your natural response, your instinct!
Next time we will talk about fly-casting,
maddening colors like stars on the top of your world.
Try to get yourselves open.