JANE
ZWART

Jane Zwart teaches at Calvin University, where she co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have previously appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, The Poetry Review (UK), and TriQuarterly, as well as other journals and magazines.

...learn more

JaneZwart_edited_edited.jpg

MEANING ENOUGH

Enough is one of those words, a bead

on an abacus, that time slides back

and forth. Or, if not time, then need.

Or does it take both time and need

to move a cored seed? Yes —

 

call it urgency, what shoves enough

the length of a wire. For there is hunger,

inching a pearl along, too slow for notice,

and there temper, caroming a hex bead

against the calculator's frame.

 

. . .

 

Of course such an abacus can gauge

only intensity; on it, surfeit and shortfall

 

will scan the same. Which is why

we cannot mean enough unless we sing, a little,

 

unless we loose the word from its rung,

from continuum, and cuff it to some other clef.

 

It takes sound, not just saying, to clasp exasperation,

a high rocaille note, to this ladder. It takes music

 

to string longing along. Only threaded does

the measure-long rest read, poor box bead, as a sigh.

IDOLATRY

Catholic was one of the words, like divorcée,

that my grandma only whispered, aghast again

and again. To be fair, she appalled herself too,

painting in secret, pained to wrong austerity

with acrylic bucolic vistas, her many still lifes.

 

I grew up among people who trusted plainness

most. The blunt word, the unspiced meal.

They could find an idol anywhere. In gardens,

Francis bird baths; in windows, sun catcher

cupids; in museums, icons with almond eyes.

 

A bishop that a chess set stranded. The priest

doing triage for God. And Mary, always Mary,

opening Jesus’ mail. In time, our neighbors

dropped all pretense and addressed their prayers

straight to her; took her name, not his, in vain.

 

I thought we should be glad at least to spare

Christ blasphemy. But it seems the Catholics

slight the Lord by not profaning him head-on.

Detour a prayer, and it turns into idolatry.

Not daring to demur, I trick-or-treated as a nun.

 

My grandma was duly horrified: I had worn

a rosary. But I thought praying to Mary not unlike

sending a friend to ask a boy you liked if he wanted

to hold hands. I would not call a delicate overture

idolatry. God knows there is a holy shyness, too.

VANISHING ACT
— for Amit Majmudar

A staple of illusion, but to vanish is not to depart

 

from reality. To vanish, leaving a whiff of brimstone

behind, is only an exaggeration of the truth.

 

We have not learned yet how to banish absence.

Atman: there is no knot at the end

 

of that thread, and a man’s magic is just to appear

not to disappear. Being means being

 

kin to thin air, sung and swallowed by Brahman.

PEACOCK ROCK

The new sweaters my mother bought her mother

right up to the end — not one of them was blue:

not the caftan (cyan) or the fair isle (beryl)

or the cardigan (indigo). Blue sweaters

are no trousseau for a widow winking at glory.

 

The sweaters my grandmother bought herself

when she was already old — all of them were purple.

Admire one and she would quote you a poem

like remonstrance: When I am an old woman

I shall wear purple. She remained too vain for red hats.

 

. . .

 

A geologist will tell you that a peacock rock’s colors

are tarnish, but that its patina, iridian and thin

as chrism, will not, like rust or rot, convert all its ore

to rainbow. This is why old women wear purple.

This is why their girls buy them twin sets (lapis lazuli).

Note: "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple" is the opening line of

Jenny Joseph's "Warning," from Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 1992)

THE REALIST
RIDES THE BUS

The vents kick out too much heat

and a man forces his window.

Kids pull hats off by their pompons.

The air smells of unwashed hair.

 

A bus is a wheeled box

built around an aisle.

Down its middle snowmelt swells

banks of rubber corduroy.

 

Down its middle a teenager

swashbuckles to the back,

unhermetic headphones

leaking rap. He doesn’t rhyme along.

 

A toddler sucks a shiny corner

of his parka. His mother pulls down

from her glove. And very loudly

a man says he is sorry.

 

Meanwhile someone outside

sprints a block, beautifully,

to the stop’s lollipop sign,

then waves the driver on.

 

The realist rides the bus

and the realist finds

more than enough that her art

cannot keep faith with.

THE RANKS OF SORROW
When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions. — 
Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 5

Not single spies and not in battalions do sorrows come.

No — snipers they come, incurious; guerillas they come,

their manyness unregimented. Legion without regulars,

 

sorrows come, not marching, not watching, not particular

about whether their mortars fire grapeshot or pegs

of potato. To a sorrow, siege engines are all the same —

 

slingshot or trebuchet — but I have wanted better

from my grief: a sense of proportion. Sorrows come

and I have cut linens into unpardonable pieces,

 

caching handkerchiefs though no one will bowl spools

of teargas here, piling sterile ribbons in easy reach

though candles are not likely to scorch the acolytes

 

at suburban vigils for forests torched. In plain clothes,

in camo, they come, and uniformly we who still have much

mistake as sorrow’s infantries these, our infant woes.