The Night in Gales
These days voracious storms come
With advance publicity on digital
Screens that trace their progress
Toward utter destruction, showing
Us decapitated houses and new cars
Thrown end on end like a pile of
Discarded dice. We sit between
Cans of beer and a bowl of chips
And watch with safe detachment
As lives we’ve never thought about
Before, are torn from trusted roots
By raw power, by the night in gales.
Nothing prepares us for events
Whose venue lies beyond conceptions
Of a loving God, or darker notions
Of a devilish force that lies outside
Of our acquired creed of good and evil.
Time after time, we’ve proven Nature
Can’t be tamed since its inchoate energy
Devotes itself to chaos: to oceans rising
To the height of minor peaks, or streets
In hurried cities spreading fatal jaws
To spew death’s fire amid crushing stone.
Volcanoes, too, erupt at Nature’s will.
And still we trust in formulas and tools
Like children who recite their prayers
At bedtime to deaf walls, and tell
Ourselves that we can push the limits
Of our knowledge beyond the carnets
Of systematic dreams, to gain the mastery
Of earth some ancient texts foretold.
Science and gold, progress and zeal,
On these foundation stones we raise
Towers of steel and glass to awe and fill
With envy Babel’s architects or Cheops.
And still, Nature can make them fall.
We are made of Nature. It roots in our atoms
And we are its nucleus since zero time.
Therefore, we are subject to its entropy.
What we hope to control lives in ourselves,
As chaos biding its time in each soul,
Before it suddenly erupts and like a quake
Breaks the veneer we label, “civilized”.
No man who aims a weapon at himself
Kills more than flesh. Nature resists
Our subjugation, our will, and all
Our stratagems to chain its rage.
Why make it our mindless enemy?
It bids us to its side to honor
The creation of a single speck
Of dust, to marvel at the mastery
Of a flower blooming or a leaf
Turning its veined surface to the sun.
It lets us witness how each single tree
Drinks rain out of its spread hand of roots
And how a shy spider creates silk
Filaments more intricate than Antwerp lace.
Like chaos and death, these, too,
Are Nature’s face. Science is small beside
Her, impotent before the night in gales.
Henry James Meets Death
It’s said he met the tireless thief
with flattery from the left side
of his final breath: So this, at last,
is the distinguished thing! Death
paused, hyperbole had roused a fever
in his ears, and his bleached fingers
trembled like a hare’s loins,
poised to sprint from danger.
What did James know, so unique
nothingness nearly avoided him,
preferring a cold bird and tin of ale,
maybe, or the sure harvest at Verdun?
Even Death must make deontic choices
and can’t steal everyone at once,
the Doctor whispered to the bedside few.
The mitered Anglican believed it
Until Henry, lamed, turned his eyes
to the ceiling, murky as the skies
above the tiled roof drumming steadily
from the thick rain, and never heard.
Your body was a poem many read
But laid aside before the final lines,
As though what they had hoped to find
Eluded them, except in fantasies you fed.
Some saw you as a linnet in cinereous light
That charms the fancier who longs for song,
But only hears the night’s swift beat
Of wings that speed the warbler out of sight.
All who coveted your perfumed breast
Imagining joys idled in your flesh,
Left, disappointed, tired as hunters,
Returning from a futile quest.
© 2003 Oswald LeWinter
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