Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Three by Roberta Spear

This morning I was reading A Sweetness Rising, the volume of new and selected poems by Roberta Spear, and I reached the section of poetry taken from The Pilgrim Among Us. It's her third book, and I hadn't read it before.

I was especially touched by this poem:

In the Moon

There are lots of men in the moon,
my son claims, and they all
have dirty feet. Sometimes they march
and the light swells.
Sometimes they lie down
and their mud-caked soles
nearly touch the earth like his
as he races toward the clear
winter sky where earlier
the moon rose between two palms.

On a night even colder than this,
she must have been listening
for those soiled boots
moving slowly in her direction.
Anna Akhmatova barely breathed each time
the wind slapped the shutters.
Resting her arms on the crude
wooden table, she pulled
each piece of shell
from the egg she held in her fingers.
"It's like peeling the moon,"
she said. She had brought
this, the first egg of their winter,
to the house of her friends
who watched in silence
as she sliced into thirds
the white, the yolk bruised,
like a sun gone out,
then pushed the plate
in their direction.

A single egg all winter—
life being what it was
fifty years before my son's birth.
We must still learn to share
what was never ours.
Whether that rubbery light
which bends to our fancy
or the third translucent slice
of cucumber he sneaks
from the salad. Or the smaller
half-moons of his nails
as he yawns and slips his hand
into mine and we finally
walk side by side,
the dark ring of his lips
making a night all its own.

The moonlight is as helpless
as those who tried to gather it
for warmth, like something
you could live by if you had to.
And when those men came down
from there and kicked in
the door to that small room
where the three sat
kicked over the table and chairs,
the bits of shell scattered,
like a dream, and could
never be found again.

In his dreams, he calls out
though he does not wake
or know me. I think
of the crows he heckled today,
the black knives of their wings
cutting the air above us.
Of children's fists thrown up
in play, like stones
at the promise of heaven.
And of that pile
left to darken and crumble,
suddenly let loose so that
the leaves cross the light and
in falling back to earth,
step toward him.
I think of my own fears
and my love which is greater,
and how I will tell them
as I tell the others
they must take off their shoes
before they enter.

— Roberta Spear

And here, inspired, by Peter's post of a nest poem, is a nest poem by Roberta Spear, again from The Pilgrim Among Us:

The Nest

The mockingbird throws open
her wings, and storms off
into the night. Soon
stars fill her empty nest.
The others come to look:
one to snitch a tuft of milkweed,
another to inspect the ragged seams.
Lastly, some stranger
in a black shirt, red cravat,
a mobster by daylight,
claims this hideout for himself
and his honey, the phoebe,
for the sweetness of night
has stunned them both.

Is it possible, all that
spit and polish come to nothing?
Or to those who never knew us,
never felt the ache of mud
and grass, these walls
through which we too will enter,
brushing the last fingers of air?
Already, my daughter
blows bubbles at me, flushes
and stares off at the light
spilling over the edges.

When she leaves, I'll lift
the windows and let them in—
the sparrow will rest on my pillow,
the wind will fill my favorite dress.
Even the mockingbird will
pluck the mold and dust
from her feathers, and study
the mirror where I lift my child
to meet herself, and we laugh
at that other nest, shining,
filled with its endless rooms.

— Roberta Spear

And then, because A Sweetness Rising includes poems from all Roberta Spear's books, I went back and found this poem:

A Nest for Everyone

The possum with four crazed paws
and a mouthful of broken teeth
is too old to brave the highway
again for a chase that blurs
into flight. The cold morning sun
grazes the husks of November,
the shoulders of workers crouched
between vines They lower
their knives, the bronzed
leaves fall to the mud, and
the fluttering stops for a moment.
Then a wave of crows ascends
from a furrow, each bearing in
its beak a token of the season—
a flailing worm, a wisp of straw,
the strip of an old sleeve
that once bound an arm or
a shattered brow and still has
the fiery stain to show for it.

Last night, this side of a steamy,
blackened window, my children
wanted to believe that there
must be a nest for everyone.
As my son struck a match, the soft
wick of the candle flared into
a prayer for our survival.
It is the dead of winter and
vines are fluted with darkness,
wired to wooden stakes. It will
take all eight candles to cast
the light of their small faces
on the glass. And many more
than that to warm all the cupped
hands waiting not far beyond.

This month, the man who holds
the deed to this gnarly orchard and
that parcel of sleeping grass
is moving slower. Hours pass,
the rows of numbers won't bear fruit.
He leans back on his chair and
stares up at the empty sky of
his kitchen ceiling. Whatever
fluttered into the fields will
go back the way it came:
birds, leaves, the endless
bleating of the neighbor's bull,
even the workers themselves
quickly dividing limb from sky,
and the stars that will rise soon
over this valley. They will all
go back to the schemes of earth
and air, like those wild nests
left vacant in winter, embracing
the light, letting some of it go.

— Roberta Spear

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