“According to a Gallup poll, more than a third
of American adults claim that God speaks
to them directly.”
— Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
This morning it was the teacup,
the little bubbles at the surface
bursting with news,
at which my ears drank.
Yesterday the produce at Hy-Vee
spoke up, the lettuce leaves
moving like lips
telling the story of salvation.
I know you don’t believe me.
You’re the two-thirds.
I’m the blessed minority.
The ones with ears to hear.
Fortunately, a vote
doesn’t determine the truth.
Your own ears are stuffed
with scientific facts.
You can’t hear a thing except
what a slide rule and a beaker tell you.
Even though God’s English
is excellent, I admit that sometimes
translation is necessary.
I have studied the creak of floorboards
and the gurgling of a kitchen drain
as second languages.
Excuse me, but I have to go now.
A call’s coming in
through the window,
on the wind, down from the hills,
the first raindrops
bespeaking a storm of instructions
I ignore at the risk of my soul.
Words: Three Epigrams
1. Occupational Hazard
— after Goethe
After love, the poet can’t help keeping track
of words that rose up as he was going slack
by tapping out pentameters on her back.
2. A Word in Winter
I wrote my name the first time ever in
the snow today by peeing in accord
with the Palmer Method taught me by a nun.
Come spring, I’ll be a melting yellow word.
3. On a Poet We Know
Call it his curse, a kind of writerly shame:
to the bowl of roses Rilke stood before,
facing pure being, our poet would prefer
a bowl of German words about the same.
Words: Choreographing Whitman: The Pianist
“for Daniel Rieppel”
I used to play piano for ballet–
classes, auditions, rehearsals, whatever: just
put a young lady on her toes and I
could lead her note by note to do her best.”
O’Hare. The bar. No barre. The stranger next
to me has learned I’m headed for the Pillow,
Jacob’s, the summer dance festival par ex-
cellence. We’re practicing deep bends de elbow.
“Though I was good at it, I have to admit
I hated playing for pointe, all that tippy-toe
dragged. Look at me, I’m a bear, no delicate
flower. Give me the Romantics’ punishing blows.
“Still, I love the way women dancers smell.
I swear their sweat smells different from men’s.
And those legs and arms, they go on for days. Hell,
their necks damn near loop. No wonder they mimic swans!
“This was at the Cleveland Ballet School.
Some teachers there were sweethearts, other Nazis,
one a chainsmoker who blew his disapproval
into a dancer’s face till she was dizzy.
“The best: Patricia McBride, who came to town
to run auditions for her company.
Besides gorgeous, she was all discipline
without a touch of fussy. She could have had me.”
His faraway gaze was like an SOS.
“Bartender,” I called. “Another drink for this man.”
I eased him back onto the topic, confessed
my ulterior motive, the poem on dance and Whitman.
“Perfect. He would have fit into a dance troupe,
its bodies and sex lives all equally fluid.
Dancers feel at home in the flesh. That’s why they can slip
into any old clothes at hand and look good.
“Even not dancing, they’re a treat to watch,
the way they lounge–pure languor, like a cat.
Who else looks so beautiful in a slouch?
They could be my daughter flopping about.
“I mean, dancers don’t merely inhabit space, filling
it up. Space for them is solid, and they sculpt
themselves out of it. No question, it was thrilling
when my notes launched them in air. Me, catapult!
“But the burnout rate of those in our trade is high.
The repetition numbs. I bailed. Sometimes I miss
the ‘reverence’–the rite that ends class, a goodbye–
the dancers’ bow of thanks to the pianist.”
And his work now? “President of a shoe-
company–upscale, both style and health. I began
with dance shoes. That’s right, I’m still into–
what else?–feet.” And then I heard “last call” for my plane.