How many in a field
of wheat, and to whom
do they belong? O death, O
grave, Bright star, thou bleeding piece 
of earth, thou shouldst be
living at this hour, world without
synonym, amen. But I
digress, turn away like Giotto’s
contrapposto Christ, apostle
of contrecoeur—nothing like the cardinal 
calling this morning, the third 
fifty-degree day at the end 
of December, to his cinnamon 
mate. The headline says, "Pope Calls 
Cardinals to Rome." But will they
come? It is written above—superscript, sign,
omission—a gentle tender insinuation
that makes it very difficult to definitely
decide to do without it. One does
do without it, I
do, I mostly always do, but
I cannot deny that from time
to time I feel myself
having regrets and from time to
time I put it in. This do in remembrance
of me, your only wick
to light. For where two
or three are gathered in 
my name, like snow in April, lid
on a coffin, ice on the lake, I’ll come
between you and yours; I give you
my word.


No one says it 
anymore, my darling, 
not to the green leaves 
in March, not to the stars 
backing up each night, certainly 
not in the nest
of rapture, who 
in the beginning was 
an owl, rustling 
just after silence, whose 
very presence drew 
a mob of birds--flickers, 
finches, chickadees, five cardinals 
to a tree--the way a word 
excites its meanings. Who 
cooks for you, it calls, Who looks
for you? Sheaf of feathers, chief 
of bone, the owl stands 
upon the branch, but does he 
understand it, think my revel, 
my banquet, my tumult, 
delight? The Irish have a word 
for what can't be 
replaced: mavourneen, my 
darling, second cousin once 
removed of memory, what is not 
forgotten, as truth was 
defined by the Greeks. 
It's the names
on the stones in the cemetery 
that ring out like rungs
on a ladder or the past 
tense of bells: Nathaniel Joy, 
Elizabeth Joy, Amos 
Joy and Wilder Joy, 
and it all comes down 
to the conclusion 
of the cardinal: pretty, pretty, pretty 
pretty--but pretty what? 
In her strip search 
of scripture, St. Teresa 
was seized, my darling, rapt 
amid the chatter
and flutter of well-coiffed 
words, the owl 
in the shagbark hickory, 
and all the attending dangers 
like physicians 
of the heard.


My mother said that Uncle Fred had a purple
heart, the right side of his body
blown off in Italy in World War II,
and I saw reddish blue figs
dropping from the hole
in his chest, the violet litter
of the jacaranda, heard the sentence
buckle, unbuckle like a belt
before opening the way
a feed sack opens all
at once when the string is pulled
in just the right place:
the water in the corn pot
boils, someone is slapped, and summer
rain splatters as you go out
to slop the hogs. We drove home
over the Potomac while the lights spread
their tails across the water, comets
leaving comments on a blackboard
sky like the powdered sugar
medieval physicians blew
into patients' eyes to cure
their blindness. At dusk,
fish rise, their new moons
etching the water like Venn diagrams
for Robert's Rules of Order
surfaced at last, and I would like to
make a motion, move
to amend: point of information, point
of order. I move to amend
the amendment and want
to call the question, table
the discussion, bed
some roses, and roof the exclamation
of the Great Blue heron sliding
overhead, its feet following flight
the way a period haunts
a sentence: she said that
on the mountain where they grew
up, there were two kinds
of cherries—red heart
and black heart—both of them

Beautiful Thinking

                           Each morning, before the sun rises
over the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer
                           on the Côte d’Azur, cruise ships drop anchor

so that motor launches from shore
                           can nurse alongside. All afternoon we studied
les structures où nous sommes l’objet, structures

                           in which we are the object—le soleil
me dérange, le Côte d’Azur nous manque—
                          while the pompiers angled their Bombardiers

down to the sea, skimming its surface
                           like pelicans and rising, filled
with water to drop on inland, inaccessible

                          wildfires. Once, a swimmer was found face down
in a tree like the unfledged robin I saw
                          flung to the ground, rowing

its pink shoulders as if in the middle
                          of the butterfly stroke, rising a moment
above water. Oiseau is the shortest word

                          in French to use all five vowels: “the soul
and tie of every word,” which Dante named
                          auieo. All through December, a ladybug circles

high around the kitchen walls looking for
                         spring, the way we search for a word that will                                         hold
all vows and avowals: eunoia, Greek

                         for “beautiful thinking,” because the world’s
a magic slate, sleight of hand—now
                         you see it, now you don’t—not exactly

a slight, although in Elizabethan English, “nothing”
                         was pronounced “noting.” In the Bodleian                                               Library
at Oxford, letters of the alphabet hang

                         from the ceiling like the teats
of the wolf that suckled Romulus
                         and Remus, but their alibi

keeps changing, slate gray like the sea’s
                        massage: You were more in me than I was
in me. . . . You remained within while I

                        went outside. Hard to say
whether it was Augustine
                        speaking to God or my mother

talking to me. Gulls ink the sky
                       with view, while waves throw themselves
on the mercy of the shore.