Monday, October 24, 2011

"Tolle! Lege!" by Kathleen Graber

Tolle! Lege!

         Here’s the spring
         And with it transmogrified
         Yataro becomes Issabo.


In truth, I have less faith in the gods than I do in the chair
I passed one night set out with the trash on John Street,
even though it seemed to me then to be already beyond saving
& I was too tired to try to lift it & carry it away.
Stripped of its cushions & fabric, the frame, by moonlight,
looked like some primitive technology, a fragment
of the heavy plough scientists dug from a Danish bog
& dated through pollen analysis to the 4th century B.C.—
the wooden wheels they knew it had had having long since
turned into peat. What I know of conversion
I learned while cleaning the sticky shelves of the icebox,
a glass sheet exploding as one end hit the sink’s hot suds.
For a single moment, as fissures crackled along the body,
I held something both whole & wholly shattered,
then, form gave way, it broke a second time, & was gone.

William James loved best those changes that burst upon us.
He hardly cared that they rarely stuck or that Augustine
in the garden had been preparing all of his life to be seized.
Hearing the children chanting, pick up & read, pick up
& read, the Saint's eyes fell upon the Epistle to the Romans,
written by Paul, the one who, having seen the Savior 
revealed on the road to Damascus, left even his name behind.

Outside, men are clearing the lawns, blowing the last
of winter's leaves into copper hills before shoveling them
into the bed of a truck. They've been at it all morning,
laboring a long time to unswaddle one acre of earth.
They pass the window & everything churns, as if the room
has been swept up in a blizzard of wings. When, decades ago,
in a dilapidated tenement slated for demolition, I caught
my own reflection in a heavy mirror affixed to a wall,
I smashed it & packed my pockets with as much of myself
as I could. Later, I poured the bits into an old milk bottle
& gave my idol a battered doorknob for a head. Augustine
believed he could almost glimpse that greater kingdom
wavering before him. Aenigma, he writes, suggesting the face
in the mirror, though his mirrors would have been bronze
& someone somewhere would have spent all of his days
pounding the world into something that small & shiny
& thin. And still, it is not easy to make out what is sought.
Someone somewhere is, even now, delicately turning
the maple spindles of a chair at a lathe. The landscapers
drive off & all the little houses resettle—
the way plovers in the dunes, having stood to stretch
their throats into the diffuse light of spring, ease down again
into the reeds. And so it is with the disquieted self, which,
startled almost at the start from itself, seems always now
to be awaiting its own return. The soul, Augustine reminds us,
loving itself, loves what is lost. He recalls the shepherd
who upon finding the missing lamb raises it up
& strides home happy. Mile after mile, he rejoices
beneath his burden of flesh. He bears the warm belly
across his glad shoulders. The pink mouth bleats at his ear.

Source of the text - Kathleen Graber, The Eternal City.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 1-2.

Bourguignomicon: With exceptional clarity, this lyric bundles images to show conversion/poetry as a self-shattering, soul-finding force. Pick it up & read.


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