Poetry | December 01, 1998
Poetry Feature: Michael Pettit
Winner of the 1997 Editors’ Prize in Poetry.
Featuring the poems:
- The Menemsha Bell
- Endless Nights of Rain
- The Weather of Heaven
- The Red Swing
- First Snowfall
- Good Luck Cottages
The Menemsha Bell
Ah the world. And us here, in its winds and light,
its distances before us like kisses we wish for at sunset,
like some missed possibility, some failure to risk
ourselves, a flight from. The big world, beautiful
noon and night, moon and tides and seabreeze
which sets the Menemsha bell rocking and ringing,
its clear rich note sounding from the ocean,
from some deep blue reservoir of music.
It rings and rings and rings and I would have you
hear it, as it sounds out over harbor and boats,
over low oaks and bayberry and rosa rugosa,
over weathered houses glowing on hillsides,
the Menemsha bell our ear knows like a pulse,
blood ringing morning evening all night as we wake
and listen in the moonlit and starry dark: acute music
we can’t refuse, come so far and so far to go.
Endless Nights of Rain
Night falls and with it, rain
you hear fall and rise in pitch,
slow then harder, like someone sobbing
in a house nearby, behind the walls,
under the roof rain drums and drips from
steady as any river running over stones,
sounding out day and night, low hiss
like a fire of green wood, sap and smoke
that makes your eyes burn, tears fall,
and what is there for that but listening
for the englines of sorrow to stop
suddenly so you can hear in the distance
some metal bucket ringing as rain falls
and fills it, one bright note over and over
all night long, and the night is long,
endless, night of endless rain, endless
nights of rain, one following the other
without relief, nightfall and falling
rain upon the black roofs, deep green
leaves of trees, blue backs of birds,
land mass of America, the vast ocean—
all suffering the blessing bestowed
in the dark you pray to end and are answered—
dawn comes. But the rain, the rain goes on.
The Weather of Heaven
Cyclical, seasonal, variable
by months, weeks, days, hours,
does the weather of heaven change like here?
Who knows? Not us. It’s a question of not
knowledge, but faith. Or imagination,
a kind of faith no one believes in now.
A cold front blows in, spitting rain, sleet, snow
as the degrees drop and the leaves wither,
evergreens of heaven weathering change.
Was it heavenly hot, back in summer—
cirrus, stratus, cumulous drifting past
in black rafts or isolate in the sky?
And the wind, that comes from . . . ? And goes . . . ?
Pollen rides the air, and faint sweet odors
arrive—scent of lemon, rosemary, sage.
But to whom? If a storm broke in heaven
and no one was there—humans, animals,
the least chickadee huddled on her nest?
The whether of heaven, we here wonder
when the sun burns our world up, when floods rise
up through houses while we watch from rooftops.
And thus doubt. Even on the fairest day
a fall benevolent beyond belief,
beautiful birches, beeches, maples in flames.
The whether of heaven, the whence and where
and who under skies dawn and dusk turn red,
signal of something, ring around the moon
announcing snow tomorrow, announcing
a white world, without one track leading there
or leading back, and the skies blue, blue, blue.
The Red Swing
Now I come to that point—the cool gray day
in late summer I cease to believe the fallen
are worth saving. No longer will I search
through the windfall, turning and turning
smooth red fruit—to find the pitted side,
side the porcupine has gnawed at night,
side gone brown, soft, moist as the earth.
Early long-fallen fruit rots everywhere,
blackening, melting back into sweet soil,
above the fragrant litter fruit flies hovering,
ants and bees and wasps crawling and feeding,
breathing the almost acrid air I breathe
at night, sitting on the red swing, feeling
the apple limb above me give and rise,
give and rise, expiration and inspiration,
alternate night and day, cold stars and sun,
and nothing to do for it, nothing at all,
no saving the rest destined to fall, hanging
above in the green leaves, ground below growing
cold, ready to receive any and all our gifts.
As happens, someone asked for something then
didn’t want it. Flung it aside. Or else
walked away, desire no longer the touch
once indispensable, the voice once all
one needed. As happens, something became
perfectly superfluous. Then became
something else entirely—a cardinal
in the first snowfall. Tips of grass still green,
not yet the invisible deep winter
will compose. As happens.
A mother hears her baby cry, her milk
lets down like this snow, undeniable
now. Far off her exhaustion will call forth
some other cold day. The child becoming
other than the one word she hears God speak.
As happens and who is to say no? No
to whom? To what? The windchime the wind rings?
Your face I compose in the dark hours?
Flurries in the lightless night so silent
I’m astonished at dawn. And go hurry
to scatter seed and call any bird down
who’s hiding, hungry, in the snowy trees.
Good Luck Cottages
I saw them coming in, set along Rt. 6
like the others: the White Caps and Sea Song,
the Ocean Haven, Linger Longer Inn.
Nothing was open, or nearly nothing.
No one wanted to watch it snow on the ocean,
or nearly no one. I was there, and souls
enough to keep the Good Luck open.
The VACANCY sign swung in the cold wind,
glaring sunlight erasing and writing
the words: GOOD LUCK COTTAGES. VACANCY.
Did they, I wondered, bring it?
Or send you away from your stay still looking?
Those who stayed—nightly, weekly, monthly—
were they like me? Miles from home
and headed, it seemed, the wrong direction?
Had they seen The Samaritans’ sign
on the Sagamore Bridge—Desperate?—
and answered Yes! and turned in here?
Ten little white houses in the scrub pines,
a place to recover, a place to lay down
your bones, your full or empty heart.
Was my heart full or hollow? I wanted
to ask that all my turmoil slip away,
but who to ask for help? Samaritans?
That man jogging through the bitter cold air?
That woman laughing in a passing car?
That song on the radio made me weep.
Was that when I saw most clearly? Road blurred
and my eyes burning, a blue-gray glaze
over everything, each little cottage.
I did not know then whether to let go
or hold on, to go forward or go back.
Who was it said choice was a gift? Some gift:
life or death, neither satisfactory,
room after room, none satisfactory.
Better to have only the Good Luck open,
to let fate and the season make my choice,
to pull off that highway of salty tears
into the one place that would take me,
offering all that I really needed:
dead quiet days and nights, a bed, a view,
a little, just a little, good luck.
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