Archive for October, 2008

“Plum trees blooming near the stream”

each spring it seems I
shall confuse reflections in
the flowing stream with
flowers and again I’ll drench
my sleeves seeking to pluck those boughs

Lady Ise

“On seeing the autumn leaves falling near a pond”

when the wind blows the
falling leaves embroider the
limpid waters where
even the leaves still clinging
are reflected in the depths

Oshikochi no Mitsune


though my feet never
cease running to him on the
byways of my dreams
such meetings do not equal
one waking glimpse of my love

Ono no Komachi

Comment: These poems can be found in the Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Middle Period, 100 CE-1450 CE. Kokinshu, or “Collection of Ancient and Modern Times,” is a medieval Japanese poetry anthology. Tanka is a Japanese verse form of 31 syllables in five unrhymed lines, the first and third having five syllables each while the second, fourth and fifth have seven. Those included in this post were translated by Laurel Rasplica Rodd with Mary Catherine Henkenius.

Read Full Post »

He was so pure
he only ate white flowers.
Nobody knew what his body
smelled like.  His lips
opened and closed around prayers,
his thin skin was a bag
for blood and bones and a heart
that sang, beating,
the glory of God.

I went to him once
on a morning heavy with rain
to ask why my man
was a stranger to me
and why my womb worried
itself over and over to death,
and hardly had knelt
at his punctured feet
when the dove of the Lord
entered my belly
and opened trembling wings.

It was a revelation.
Fire leapt like dogs
from my hair,
my mouth came alive,
I could read the secrets
in the scent of his robe,
birds tingled in my fingers,
I felt the shadows melt back
in my eyes.

Folding his hands
into his sleeves,
the saint arose.
“The way of woman
leads to darkness,”
he said, and threw himself
into that thicket there.
But the roses knew me
and drew in their thorns.
Their leaves caressed him
in my name, buds burst
into ecstatic blossom
all around him.

Marilyn Nelson
The Fields of Praise: 
New and Selected Poems

Commentary:  Marilyn Nelson is a poet of history.  She turns the truth about the past into lyric.  After seeing  Giotto’s frescos on the life of St. Francis, she wrote “The Life of a Saint,” of which “Seducing the Saint” (given above) is the third part.

I cannot help but love how Marilyn imagines herself, in the second stanza, to be like the Virgin Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, the moment of the Immaculate Conception.  “The dove of the Lord” enters her belly … when she stands, imaginatively, before St. Francis.  

Like Marilyn Nelson, I love St. Francis.  I grew up in the San Franciso Bay Area, and when I left California to become, among other things, a poet-in-exile living outside of Chicago, my aunt gave me a little triptych showing St. Francis preaching to the birds.  It was made in Rome, the Eternal City, which I visited for the first time last summer …

My father told me the story of St. Francis preaching to the birds when I was a little girl.  I loved that story. When I was grown, I learned that St. Francis was famous for saying, “Preach always.  If necessary, use words.”  But the heart of Francis himself so overflowed that, even when people would not listen, he spoke to the creatures God had made!  It makes me believe … that St. Francis had a poet’s heart.

In his Life of St. Francis, Bonaventure wrote of the saint:

The Cross strengthened him
to entrust his soul
to the wood of salvation
that would save him from the shipwreck of the world.

The truth of this was written in the hands and feet of St. Francis, and that is worth remembering.

Read Full Post »