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Epiphany

Photograph by guest arts editor, Colin Grubel.
Read about the art selection process for this piece here.

 

 

On Ojibway Island

 

Seeking herons’ pointed beaks, egrets’ plumes,

I idle beyond the empty band shell,

its warping panels.

Seeing none,

I follow the circular drive,

its one-way path,

with water to my right, lawn always left,

but find no comfort,

only remains

of picnic lunches calling to crows,

white historical markers

turning grey under basalt skies.

 

The local AM preacher

asks for alms, preys on the prayerful,

but on Ojibway,

first masses were offered

in thick québecois.

Father Nouvel pinned black robes,

brown woolens, between knee, soggy ground.

I imagine him leading his devout, the paid, the cajoled,

further upstream,

toward the Shiawassee flats,

purple phlox standing tall, heads bowed.

 

Mosquito choirs remain,

but faith, wonder are fleeting—

could he find beauty in blue chicory

growing in asphalt’s crumbling edge?

gang symbols sprouting on river concrete,

spiraling like the spent balls of clematis,

Medusa’s locks?

the culled forests replaced by utility poles,

smokestacks?

 

Leaving this island,

where the Sauks are no more,

I follow gravel rivers flowing both ways.

Behind the court house,

its walls of concrete justice,

church gardens show off maroon peonies

that emerge from ants,

that hide legs under ruffled skirts;

celebrate the curved stems,

striped leaves of nasturtium

that escape from stony seeds;

praise the yellow pansies with purple masks.

Nearby, condemned signs, printed on red paper,

are taped to doorways, sinking foundations.

Eviction glows like a new scar, the mark of Cain.

Cookfires, hope have become orange smoke

helixing on the horizon.

 


*      *     *

 

 

Reunion, Late Summer

 

Through her bay window,

sun sinks into water,

reminds me of a communion wafer bypassing teeth,

an egg yolk swallowed whole.

Hummingbirds flit about feeders;

iridescent breasts, metallic silk shawls,

glitter like stained glass.

 

While she prattles about

overweight neighbors

balancing in kayaks,

moving through,

between the evaporated tracks

of snowmobilers,

I tally changes, constants:

sarcasm remains, but not the beehive;

eyebrows are still plucked into perpetual surprise.

I dream of Audrey Hepburn in Charade.

 

We settle in the breakfast nook

where a wrought-iron patio set sprouts

from green shag.

Fleurs-de-lis form table legs.

A crack splits its glass

top. Her toenails curving under,

her left foot turned out,

she hobbles about in terrycloth,

turquoise, pain, a knit cap

despite the heat.

 

I try to set the table, guess where

silverware, potholders might be,

always off the mark,

the thread off the loom,

feather poking through pillows.

Cackling,

more crone than fairy godmother,

she acknowledges my distress,

calls of “where, where?”

I can’t find forks but know

bags of bottles, gallon jugs of Gallo green,

line garage walls.

 

My evil self plans escape,

eyes telegraphing distress calls to my wife—

glances, eye rolls become dots, dashes,

the click of metal

meeting metal, silver, copper,

the message known only by paired stationmasters;

faith, for them, resides

in the medium, warp, weft, line.

 

Fearing the future,

a repeated past,

I study my aunt in profile, against the glass,

surveying evening.

The nightingale’s kir-kir-kir hovers

over greying water; cattails sway

like ticking metronomes in the wake

of purple martins, swallows,

silenced, at twilight.

 

 

*      *     *

 

 

Retreating

 

Sweet stars, I’ll ask a softer question: Moon

attend me to the end. I’m here alone.

–Theodore Roethke, Straw for the Fire 

 

He hides beneath blue hydrangeas

lining his Uncle Karl’s home.

The Kreuzer sonata, though the boy can’t name it,

washes over him,

funneled between the open space

linking sill, sash,

carrying the burning kerosene of hurricane lamps.

 

As German lieder fall,

his chin on his knees,

he leans into rounded cobblestones,

scent of cooled compost.

Wet leaf-mould glints in perpetual dusk.

 

He studies the rising clapboards

of his home, whitewashed, rigid.

Squares of light, filtered through gingham,

still carry the glare of church elders

anointed with tobacco, tea, indignation.

 

The greenhouse, its slick walls,

remains another option.

The rising moon repeats

in each pane

like a series of dominoes,

a single pip in each square,

one on one on one,

one by one by one.

 

Flowers under night glass are

nothing

but shadows, blue gardens

in humid air.

Between leaves, arthritic twigs,

he scans skies for sweeter stars.

 

 

*      *     *


 

Intercession, or Torso Turning

 

Oversized chestnut leaves,

marked by beige blight moving from edges inward,

separate Jeanne de Fiennes from day’s eye;

his emptied sockets

ignore the gold spreading over his foot.

This rash inches upward,

like lichen,

growing from touch

repeated.

 

His spine is a furrow,

cut deep by a rusting plow.

Fingers remain spread,

the ball of the left foot planted

in permanence,

the sole a bridge to nowhere.

Lips are parted—to speak? to scream?—

I wait to hear his voice.

 

I leave this martyr, his shadow, this shade,

for wild roses teeming with lemon centers,

layers of mums,

white on white,

each smaller than the last,

like nesting dolls,

the pebbled path unwinding like a loose thread.

 

I follow this Parisian stream of stone,

            pink, grey, white

sights obscured by ornamental grass

ever reaching upward;

Here stones make a scratching noise under foot.

Here saints’ suffering, sacrifice remain

ever green;

here I hope to find you.

 

 

*      *     *

 

 

naming the memory ward

 

 

1.

 

on movie night

where credits never run

nurses push patrons

outdoors

(as if diners would order this dish)

 

the screen is a sheer sheet

pinholed

white as a pumpkin seed

 

i imagine edges burning inward

narrowing

to ashes

ashes

ash

sh

 

 

2.

 

another visit

i leave the day’s burning eye

adjust to ward walls, today’s verbal games

 

a bird in the hand                               

                                    poops pecks pleads

it’s raining cats                                  

                                    what

a rose is a rose is a                             

                                    flower

don’t throw the baby out                                

                                    ever                                                                                                    

 

a perfect score

you still lose

 

tvs burn blue

yesterday’s menu loops

beef bacon baloney

 

i carve with sharpies

on polyester

a deflated blouse

blue scarf bursting with begonias

 

sharp lines bleed

bend

bruises blossom

 

photos mark months

scalloped sepia surfaces in september

bridesmaids and bouquets bear blanks

groomsmen grin

 

you ask their names

i have no answer

 

so i try to bring the outdoors in

line your windowsill

name what I can

rosemary red basil lavender

love-lies-bleeding

rue

 

late fall brings baby albums

more snapshots:

another hospital bed

iris pinned to your chest

priests peddle blessings in bottles

 

even i know their line

(what do you ask of the church)

 

saints slip

from your tongue

like words from your past

 

you rustle

wrestle with candy wrappers

stripped of sweetness

raspberries resurrecting roommates

 

surrounded by seagrass

cradled by cotton

you stare to space

succumb

 

patient/guest/in/out

impatient/outguess

outing/out/in

i refuse the visitor log

blaming blooms in my fingers

 

christmas cacti burn blood-red at easter 

 

i stake mums in shade

twist twine

to tether stalk to stick

 

i brush against obedient plants

belled blooms

feathered ferns

 

pinked petals elongate

into empty-eyed needles

 

phones stay still

 

i transplant aster after aster

asterisk sunburst

 

diagnoses await

 

today i may be your father brother uncle

wearing blue

bringing forget-me-nots

acquiescing

allowing

agreeing

telling you go go

go

 

 

 

About the Author
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A lifelong resident of Michigan, CJ teaches at Saginaw Valley State University, where he also serves as the assistant director of the school’s writing center. He is the author of the chapbook Destination, Michigan and one of the editors of the community literary journal Still Life.