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WILSON, James Matthew


You’ve known the roaring stadium

When, far downfield, receivers sprint

To catch the ball, without a hint

They knew that it would come.

You’ve known the blushing on the face

Of children reading from the page

Who hustle swiftly from the stage,

Embarrassed by their grace.

You’ve known, as well, the breaking voice

Of one who, dying on his bed

Can summon some old feat and shed

His sorrows and rejoice.

You know, when darkness starts to fall,

Over the clashes in the street
As if a curtain of defeat,

These things you must recall

The Hidden Creek

The creek behind our house is lost in wood,

A smear of algae green amid dark green,

Present more as a sound than something seen,

As sunken bullfrogs croak their neighborhood.

Some days, the dried mud shows where trees once stood,

The splintered, graying barrels bared between

Orange touch-me-nots and arrowheads’ floppy sheen,

Beneath the rough black willows’ spangled hood.

This afternoon, I watched my daughter wade

Into that verdant darkness, her old shoes

Testing each step before it took her weight.

She brought with her our clotted garden spade,

Still useful but one she was free to lose,

In search of some rare plant, or frog, or fate.

Through the Water

He must in some way cross or dive under the water, which is the most ancient symbol of the barrier between two worlds

-Yvor Winters

Far back within the mansion of our thought

We glimpse a lintel with a door that’s shut,

And through which all our lives would seem to lead

Though we feel powerless to say toward what.

It is the place where all the shapes we know

Give way to whispers and a gnawing gut.

And so, in childhood, we duck beneath

The waterfall into a hidden cove;

In summer, pass within a stand of pines

Cut off from those bright fields in which we rove,

Whose needles lay a softening bed of silence,

Whose great boughs tightly weave a sacred grove.

When winter settles in, and our skies darken,

We take a trampled path by pond and wood,

And find beneath an arch of slumbering thorn

Stray tufts of fur, a skull stripped of its hood,

Then turn and look down through the thickening ice

In wonder at the strangeness of the good.

And Peter, Peter, falling through that plane,

Where he had only cast his nets before,

And where Behemoth stalked in darkest depths

That sank and sank as if there were no floor,

He cried out to the wind and felt a hand

That clutched and bore his weight back to the shore.

We know that we must fall into such waters,

Must lose ourselves within their breathless power,

Until we are raised up, hair drenched, eyes stinging,

By one who says to us that, from this hour,

We have passed through, were dead but have returned,

And are a new creation come to flower.

Stations of Divorce

The train runs, carrying her amongst her things,

A bag upon her lap like some dull child

To whom her pale but red-ringed throat never sings.

All songs forgot, as she grows clenched and riled.

Her hand, all nerves, combs over a blond case

As if to soothe it on the lurching pace

From station onto station. Aged velour

And rustic rusting brown adorn the coach.

Its torn, high seats a headless stream endure

Of every modern man and law’s approach,

Ignore the whispering faces at each border,

And bear the weight of a collapsing order.

She might have stayed a gombeen man’s bruised wife,

Or screeched, a mad crone in the Sligo square,

Each word a litany against this life.

But, now, she’s fled, and lost all words for prayer,

No child left nor angel to escort her,

But sees her husband’s face in every porter.

The Death of Cicero

A fluttering of wings and sudden pain

Entered the guarded portals of his head

Beneath its sheet, and woke him once again

To find a ring of crows about his bed.

The sunlight shimmered on the distant sea.

The birds cawed, restless, as though one divine

Had sent their feathered darkness as a sign

That death approached and he must rise and flee.

His servants pulled him through the postern gate

To ride in shadows to a waiting ship,

As if provision could slip free of fate.

The litter jostled, sweat pearled on his lip,

And dust plumes, rising at the hastening feet,

Settled upon his robe and graying beard.

His valet’s eyes were wild with what they feared

And found the blazing sails of Antony’s fleet.

The carriage veered, then rattled to a halt.

Its drape swung open to reveal two men;

They stood with swords drawn, ready for assault.

He offered none, stretched forth his neck, and when

The blade was raised, told them, do what they would.

His head dropped with his two hands, in the dust;

Then, brought to Rome to answer Antony’s lust,

All three were nailed, where Cicero once had stood.

But this, historians note, was not the end.

Antony’s wife would bow before that head

And, with her hairpin, pierce its tongue to send

One final message to the noble dead:

Though they may speak with justice all their lives

And bear death bravely, chatting of the soul,

Power shall rule the world from pole to pole,

And nothing that defies its will survives.

Vanished Fire


Bright burning embers fall to somber coals,

And, in the morning light, the emptied nook

Seems the sole darkness on which eye may look,

In such a room, where whites make brilliant wholes

Of drapes and spreading carpet, couch and china bowls.

But there, that lately-burning mouth

Now speaks of shadow and of drouth,

As if to shame our dog-eared fireside book;

Its story of a marriage made

And sentiments that never fade,

Brought by the fire’s fainting flash

To seem as fragile as a bough of ash.

And ash, indeed, the world has often been.

The much-loved friend and confidant, in time,

Returns but to remind you of some crime

Of youth, committed while the mind was green

But knew already what the errant will could mean;

The boy you followed home to beat

Then made a coward’s quick retreat,

Your knuckles smeared with sweat and dust and grime.

He represents what you’d forget,

The foolish plot or night’s regret,

Not with his words, but in his face

Whose lines seem like a script the eye may trace.

No shortage of reminders such as this;

They come, alas, just when some touch of pride

Has made the world seem glass on which to glide;

Just when we think that there is no abyss

Waiting to greet our blithe face with a sloppy kiss.

That thing you said to someone’s harm

Which you had thought a sign of charm,

But now see no one near you could abide;

The casual dishonesty

To show the world that you were free

Now shows itself for what it was:

A mere enchantment at one’s own applause.

These, we know, are the wounds of vanity.

The voice within reports that we are great

And lulls us to believe it with sweet bait

That feeds the hungry ear on fantasy,

And shouts down every voice that dares to disagree

With what it offered as the case.

But then, that voice will spin in place

And where it praised before, now snarls with hate

At how the world’s a mass of flies

That procreates and feeds and dies,

That savors vice, that lives for power

And never knows a kind or noble hour.

Yet, even in the silence of the mind,

Chastened and clarified, we sense indeed

The world’s a wilderness where all things bleed,

Its cities bombed, its people scarred and blind,

Its fruits grown overripe and eaten to the rind

Though all still hunger. Who could say

It’s just imagination’s play

That finds a father’s murder or his greed

Endemic to the life we know?

Whatever else the world may show,

It finds time for the child whom

A cold indifference severs from the womb.

These ashes in the fire, these half-burnt logs

Left blackened, riven, and disintegrating

Behind the scorched and bent and weathered grating

Will give themselves away as analogues

For grave and petty wounds the psyche catalogues.

If evil’s the enduring fact

So is this way our minds react

To find out figures for our contemplating,

This doubling of things as signs

Which opens them as it defines

And helps the intellect to see

Even within the darkest mystery.

Such is the strangeness of most beauty’s birth.

Amid the battered armor on the field,

Some victor paints a crest upon his shield

And vows to treat the weak as things of worth.

A fixed stare on the crumbling deep of blackest earth

Will find concealed within that sight

The thought of everlasting light.

The open wound shows how it may be healed.

We would not choose to learn this way.

Why can’t the mind know only day?

Surely the form of truth does not

Require acquaintance first with death and rot.

Imagine, for a moment, such a place

As saints and wise men sometimes tell us of;

A place not here, but, in a sense, above,

Where all is light and plenitude and grace;

No abstract thing, it meets us with a radiant face.

On sight, we know that we are blest

To find in it perpetual rest.

This alone is the object of our love,

And could we know it from the start

The soul would never once depart.

But, here, in battered things, we find

Faint traces that will summon it to mind.

What, for some other sort of creature, may

Seem a distraction from that elegance,

For us has the necessity of dance,

Its suffering that reorders us for play,

Its discipline that strengthens those who first obey.

Some of us sense it and draw back,

Refuse to name this thing we lack,

But savor its sensation of a trance,

As if that were the most of it,

And not a sign to make us fit

For that long passage now begun

Which scatters us before it makes us one.

How curious that what transcends all things

Should choose to hide itself within them too,

And pierce the sky’s finality of blue.

What seems the last is but the first of rings

That from the dark whirls outward on extended wings.

Thus in the empty living room,

Out of the vanished fire’s tomb,

Such veering thoughts will sometimes come to you.

They settle in the memory

Whose eyes, with failing vision, see

Inside those ashes that appear

A brilliance, distant, foreign, and yet clear.