Now bare and heading into its winter dormancy, our young grapevine is supported by a sturdy stake and a tall narrow decorative arch shaped like a thirteenth century church window. Early in the summer, I made a simple temporary arbor by attaching some twine to the metal frame, which I stretched up to a hook near the eave at the end of the house, ran back and looped around a random nail in the outside wall, and back again to the arch. As the season progressed, we were able to walk under the vine’s growth on our way to visiting the apricot tree and blueberry bush, between which I had planted peppers and eggplant. Pausing beneath, standing near the window, we could hear the choir of birds inside. The church is one of those that has long since lost its dome. But the acoustics have only improved, the architect having worked on a universal scale. And I am the monk who tends the garden and cares for the grounds.
Monastery of Psalms
We lived a life behind these walls.
Brothers united by blood and sacred theme,
our mission was to wait and watch and pray
through summer’s dust and winter’s ice and mud,
and through the sweet, sad longing of autumn,
and spring’s blind, erotic dance.
Now, we are gone. But the walls remain,
solemn and gray, bearing the scars
of man’s sad war upon himself.
In crevices, generations of windblown seed
put down roots, then spring forth
like a boy’s new soft beard.
Our voices, also, remain. Or, this is perhaps
imagined, as I imagine I am saying these words
to you now, speaking across ten centuries.
As I imagine you are listening. As you imagine
you are free, when the truth is, you are imprisoned
by your wise cynicism.
The road ends. I stop the car. Above, an eagle flies,
buoyed by our singing, its wings painting whispers
on the empty sky. You push open the door. Already tired,
you climb out, stretch, and gaze up at the walls. I check the
tires and smile to myself. You are bothered by the distance
you must carry your equipment, by the work involved.
As you reach into the trunk, a tiny shower of pebbles
is started by your feet. You do not ask me for help.
While you fumble about, I light a cigarette
and turn toward the walls. I inhale deeply,
then close my eyes and listen: Out of the depths
have I cried unto thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
You curse under your breath.
Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
You open your tripod and place it on the ground.
You say, “What’s this place called again?”
My sister’s house is busy with people.
She smiles and says, “Where have you been?”
I tell her the same thing I always tell her:
that I have been driving. She kisses me on the cheek.
“For these fat tourists?” she says. “Why do you do it?”
But she knows why. She knows I need the money.
My sister’s children are running through the house.
They come to greet me with their kisses.
The girls smell like flowers,
the boys like warm, black earth.
I give them each a small piece of candy,
then they run away laughing.
The youngest child, a girl,
is just a baby.
She has her mother’s eyes,
and her father’s unruly black hair.
Drowsy, she looks partially melted
on her mother’s hip.
I go outside to find the artist.
My sister’s husband is in his studio.
He is sitting at a small table near the window,
sketching. On the table is a pear.
The pear is so ripe that its color runs out
and forms a golden pool.
The artist looks up. His wordless knowing greets
my memory: water, wind, earth, bread, salt, stone.
The sun’s fire, a deep, volcanic rage, the snow-covered
mountains. A sea of bones. His thoughts rise up like ghosts
and flutter across the room. They settle on my brow,
saying, This is who we are. It is enough.
Today I am alone. After eating breakfast,
I leave the city and drive into the mountains.
Along the road, obsidian shines in the sun like sharp,
broken teeth. Spent grass waits for fire or rain.
Amidst a swirl of autumn leaves, village women offer
the season’s last fruit, bread, and honey.
I keep the window down.
The air is warm and alive with insects.
Here and there, as the road bends,
I can see where I have been.
Behind me, the plateau is a sea of tranquil dust,
the soft color of a pale, dying rose.
I smile and think of home. I think
of my mother and father, teaching school.
I think of my grandparents,
and their white bones lying in the sun.
I remember my childhood, and the games I played
with the other boys in the village.
I remember my sister taking water from the spring,
and watching as the boy who would be her husband
followed her to steal a kiss. I remember writing my first
poem, about moonlight and falling apple blossoms.
Then, I hit a bump in the road, and I think of all the time
I spend driving, and the time I have yet to spend.
I know this place by heart.
Every inch of every wall, every shadow.
The bell tower and dome, alive with birds.
The stone steps leading to the altar,
worn smooth by centuries of silent feet.
The uneven stone floor.
The candle-blackened niches.
The high, narrow windows that have never known glass.
The soft breeze passing through.
The quiet life of spiders.
I live a life behind these walls.
But no one knows. No one.
You take dozens of pictures,
yet your walls remain barren, empty.
Categories: Collected Poems