From Long Journey Home: Poems on Classical Myths:
Daedalus Laments Icarus
Airborne he learned his wings worked their own magic.
Thermal currents, with the gentle rhythmic hunching
of his shoulders (the way I instructed him) did the work of flight,
having perfected the systems’ mechanics in tests myself,
although I warned him of the limitations of the adhesives.
First he circled the labyrinth, taunting our captors,
delighting at the sight of the tiny guards shaking their fists,
their arrows dangling in mid-air before falling back to earth,
that horrible man-bull thing rutting the lawn with its hooves,
the king stomping back and forth, cursing the sky.
Trying to be practical in all matters, I pointed the way
of a straight course toward the coast on the horizon,
but I saw Icarus feel the rush of flight, the flesh of his face
pressed taut by the wind, smiling from the kiss of sunlight
on the nape of his neck. First, he tried a few steep banks,
then loops, then, a high-velocity dive, pulling up in time
to buzz fishing boats, whitecaps lapping at his feet,
before climbing again, higher and higher, warnings forgotten
from a memory that held only the last instant of exhilaration,
higher than the gulls to where the island was hidden in its mist.
No one saw him fall but I; the fishermen didn’t notice.
But what I saw still haunts, the flailing arms and legs
splashing soundlessly into the sea, feathers floating
on the dark surface like petals scattered on a grave,
finally the crest of a plush wave, swallowing him.
They say that grief takes time, that first you make your peace
with the gods and then you make a separate peace with yourself.
Those who say so never saw their sons fall from the sky,
never gave their sons wings to fly to their deaths.
It is more of a cease-fire, not at all the same as peace.
True, the wings I invented were the means of our escape;
but eventually one grows weary of paradox and he wants to feel
what he feels, wants to face the face that still hovers in vapor
over the water and touch lost time again, wants to speak
what only can be spoken in silence long after it is too late.
From The Color of Prayer: Poems on Rembrandt Painting the Bible:
You are so convincing. The furrowed brow,
your left hand held as though to say, who me?
By now you are practiced at denial
and accustomed to its aftertaste.
The woman who accosts you startles no one
with her gesture while the soldier who kneels
seems more worried you will answer the truth
than the lie that was to be your destiny.
Firelight reflects on your back, the light you
are afraid to face. We understand too well,
lurking in the shadows like the figures
in the fringe of light they dare not enter.
The hand you hide inside your cloak and press
against your heart conceals the burden both
of faith and fear. This intrigues me the most.
And you cannot disguise the sorrow in your eyes.
The sin we witness here might have haunted
you for days or longer — the fires that burn
between the night and dawn searing a heart
sore from running, except you taught us well
and so we know that you were forgiven.
And here is the genius to this sin of yours.
When judging us after we fail our tests,
you will recall that you failed yours as well.
How different it might have been if you
had been bold in that dim firelight.
But now, your ministry will be about mercy,
your sermons about grace, and the rebukes
From Stations of the Cross:
She Tastes the Salt
Lot’s wife looked back,
and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19: 26 (KJV)
Sounds of the city’s buildings collapsing
into the hiss of flames, shrieks of panic
muted by the blare of alarms echo
up the canyon road to Zoar, where Lot and
his wife rest, bone-weary from the burden
of cooking pots, hastily collected,
and the weight of silent regret for kin
and a few old neighbors also worthy,
left behind without any warning or
good-bye. She remembers the goat-hair dolls
she made for her daughters, now grown and who
soon will carry burdens of their own, and
the table she did not finish setting for dinner,
fresh peeled vegetables, still fragrant, also
left behind, the robe set aside for mending
a week ago, the stoop she meant to sweep
the day before two visitors came,
the day before she overheard them warn
her husband not to look back when leaving,
advice she thought was strange.
Lot surveys the site where they will make camp
for the night, tugs at the sides of the hood
he has pulled over his head extending
the sides as blinders, arranges blankets
on the leeward side of a boulder, dusts
away ashes falling like fine dry
snow, then cautions again his daughters
not to look back no matter what.
She listens until silence comes, until
a tear moistens her dust encrusted cheek
and courses to the corner of her mouth
where she tastes the salt.