David Walbert on history, woodworking, gastronomy, agrarianism, education, &c.
Most of these are “cheap poetry,” quick verses that range from haiku to doggerel and commemorate something observed or experienced. Some are longer and more serious; you’ll know them when you see them (I hope).
Sing what no neighbor dares confess
Amid the squalid safety of the new
(Constructed character of mismatched cubes,
Rectilinear gardens, monochrome)—
This cottage clothed in cheerful dereliction,
The color of a child’s shining sun,
With window-box and dooryard in a mania
Of zinnia, petunia, gazania—
Accidentally annexed, arrises askew,
Gilded, bowered, vine-rife, breeze-cleaned, bird-rung.
Why scorn what abundant life includes,
Careless or a contrary ambition?
Whatever saints and sinners call this home,
God bless and keep them in their foolishness.
On Saturdays, at terce
I polish the brass. One by one
the candles from their unlit altar
in my calloused hands I carry
to a bench of pine my ancestors made.
Outside the sun bakes pilgrims in the square.
I sit in shadows, back against cool marble.
The candlesticks rest in my lap.
The polish stains my apron.
I peel away the hardened
husks of thrice-said prayers,
and with a cloth gentled by laundering
caress their graceful necks, their
swollen bellies, archéd feet.
I have no hurry. I have
polished this candlestick a thousand
years. I shall polish the next
a thousand more
until the light from high
windows the dark stones swallow
finds each arc, each surface,
makes it gleam.
I need no candle here.
I make the unseen visible.
My eyes will find
my work when it is finished.
‘Twas a grey day in February,
and evening fell like a dead canary…
Thus begins this year’s winning entry in the annual Upper Dongle Creek Literary Society Bad Poetry Contest. Penned by Mr. E. P. Merdle of Fickle Fork, Iowa, “February” evinces a deft hand at poetic form animated by vivid imagination and the worst possible taste. When asked for comment on his victory, Mr. Merdle replied only that “the main ain’t got no culture.”
First prize for 2022 is a box of five hundred pink erasers, a certificate suitable for framing, and a cease and desist order signed by six former U.S. Poets Laureate.
I read this poem, or rather story in the form of a poem, in lieu of preaching a sermon on John 6:1–15 at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church on July 26. I had no great words of wisdom to offer about the story of the loaves and fishes, and, in any case, I’m a writer, not a preacher.
We walked for miles to see him, this brand-new prophet,
packed a picnic in the dark before dawn:
bread, a little stale; some cheese, a skin of wine,
more than we needed. My wife overpacks.
On my back I bore this feast, beyond
the town, the stubbly fields, into the desert—
the wilderness, she driving me before her
like a damned goat to die. We lived, of course,
but that was later. Meantime the sun shone hot
and hotter as it climbed, as we climbed
one hill after another, to see another valley
void of life and full of rocks, the few
bare bushes brown, and worse than none.
The sky became a vast and cloudless fire
that washed the world to white. We kept our eyes
down on the ground. A lonesome vulture fed
on carrion—though what could have lived here
long enough to die, I could not guess. Perhaps
another prophet, less successful. This one—
This one they all talk about, the one
the fishmonger says is Lord. I’ve heard it before.
My wife, my neighbor, the fishmonger say to me:
You have to hear him preach! But all I could think,
trudging over hill and sun-baked vale:
If this guy is Lord, someone forgot
to prepare his way. Continue reading “We walked for miles to see him”→
Each day tells its tale unto the next:
The sun in jaunty setting shouts its benediction to the sky
Like a TV talk show host leaving the stage.
One by one the sky announces stars
But the twinkling stars forget their lines, and the moon, old nag
Spends half the night in prompting. Insouciant satellites streak
Across the stage, and are removed. The audience
Doze, or check their phones. Before the dawn
The constellations are confused, and reel half-lit
About the murky void, Orion and the Pleiades
Doing God knows what together in the West. Now Venus,
Always eager, is up too early, and Jupiter demurely
Hides his face behind a cloud. The night grows pale
And imparts what knowledge it recalls—a whispered word,
The echo of a gesture. Something about the truth?
Not much remains. The day, in any case
Will not believe a word of it.
She rides ahead and would head off
His maverick thoughts, guiding them to sensible
Corrals — but stubbornly they canter,
This one to its mother, that to the river’s cool
Repose, each in a time and place its own.
He will speak his piece.
A lifetime’s work reduced by lifetimes since
To a pile of stones in a ferny wood, grown o’er
With moss and vines, and gently hid to all
But those who wish to see. A gift from him
Who dwelt here once, to be now so effaced
From a hillside once his own — for now it may
Be mine, or anyone’s. Would that we
Were half so generous.
By nine the air already sweats.
The sun, wearier today than once
Climbs but slow, as travelers laden
Struggle to heft again damp spirits,
While all around our dizzied ears
This primeval din the wood exudes—
This moldering cacophony
Swells in time with sweltering
And seeps in through our pores like rain.
By nine the air already sweats.
But overhead on fruitless bough
A bird extends his morning song,
Forgetting that it is no longer June.