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.
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.
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.
— 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.
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)
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,
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.