For Joseph HaydnThis chamber form that he perfected--
Four fiddlers’ brief fraternity--
Became for us an unexpected
Blessing of quaternity.
For every time a string quartet
Is played, the broken world is healed
A little. Let us not forget,
Then, him through whom this was revealed.
Mother Maria Skobstova (1891-1945)The Parisians who observed her
Bargaining with the greengrocer
For a better deal on potatoes
Had no category for her,
So confusing to them was
The garb of a Russian nun.
(But, inured to their stares,
She continued, weighing
The sorry state of the leeks
Against their reduced price,
Adding them, skeptically,
To her bag.)
Later (it’s always later)
Her confusing persona
Was revealed to be
Nothing other than a sign
Of the anomaly she’d become
The moment she understood
Cross and Resurrection
To be essentially the same thing,
Rather than cause and effect.
(As the apples seemed salvagable,
She took some of those too.)
That cigarette hanging from her mouth:
Her antidote to the odor of sanctity.
(A couple cabbages more,
And she continued her way home.)
Kathleen Ferrier, Contralto (1912-1953)
As a singer approaches that place
In the lower register where we sense
There could be trouble, compassion
Sometimes conquers criticism in us,
And if her voice weakens, or rattles,
Or if the note is missed, we forgive her,
Amazed that she tried.
But when Kathleen
Approached that place,
And we waited, poised,
Instinctively, to honor her effort,
The earth surprised us by
Rising up to support her,
And our kind intention
Was made irrelevant,
When the sound
That had begun so gloriously
In the easy part
Was perfected in the hard part:
Made surer, stronger, and happier,
While the earth itself
Bore witness to the event,
As it had that other time
For the Buddha.
Thus, when the earth claimed her,
Earlier than seemed fair,
I like to think it was nothing other
Than a reunion of friends.
Leave-Taking of PaschaThirty-nine days
Spend more time
At it than that
And you begin
To miss the other
That bless the cosmos
Every time honesty
Come to their
These small risings-from-the-dead,
Unadorned by empty tombs,
Can be easy to miss.
So, then, let us take
This farewell to be
The beginning of
To pay attention to them.
In Leap Year, 327.
Holy ConversationA couple saints
Got together for tea,
As they sometimes will.
“Can you pass the sugar?” one asked.
“Here you go,” the other replied.