Poetry | July 01, 2011

Winner of the 2010 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize for Poetry

  • To Account for Such Grace (featured as Poem of the Week, April 21, 2011)
  • Early Pastoral
  • The Consolation of a Company of Acrobats
  • A Temporary Delaying of the Inevitable


To Account for Such Grace

Some nights, light’s particle nature is italicized

by the downward emphasis of a steady rain.


History is the distance between what happened

and what we say happened. A woman without


an umbrella is a frail shadow hunched over

a small flame flickering between her palms


in a shallow alcove, the only light the flame

cupped in her hands and a sixty-watt bulb


somewhere behind her in the niche she’s found

that almost keeps her out of the frenzied rain.


If this were being painted in sixteenth-century Florence,

the woman would be a statue of the only woman


the church could love, the mother of God

the son, and cupped in her delicate, trembling hands


would be the burning heart of God become man,

having flown out of his dying chest with a last wheeze


from the cross. Rain, in the painting, would be

an occasion for the artist to show off his brilliance


with reflective surfaces, nothing more. History

might ask us to ignore the woman’s hands, the calluses,


how they tremble and seem too delicate to hold up

under her grief. No matter is as delicate


as light. Or as alluring as the face of this woman,

having a smoke, waiting out the rain. Entire histories


have been imagined to account for such grace.

Music has transformed the human voice


to make possible even a vague hint of the delicacy

of this woman’s fragrant hands, moist with mist,


reflecting light in ways a Renaissance master

would have bowed down to, envious, rapt.

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