09 February 2014

Angels, where were you?


                     by Maxine Kumin

Taking off at sunset over the city
it seems we pull the sun up
and pin it over the rim
or is it the other way round,
is it the horizon we push down
like a loose cuticle?
I am up here grieving, tallying
my losses, and I think how once,
the world was flat and rested on
the back of a giant fish whose tail
was in his mouth and on the Day
of Judgment all the sinners fell
overboard into the black gulf.
Once we walked distances
or went by horse and knew our places
on the planet, gravity-wise.

Now angels, God's secret agents,
I am assured by Billy Graham, circulate among us to tell
the living they are not alone.
On twenty-four-hour duty, angels
flutter around my house and barn
blundering into the cobwebs,
letting pots boil over
or watching the cat torture
a chipmunk When my pony,
filching apples, rears and catches
his halter on a branch and hangs
himself all afternoon, I like
to think six equine angels fan 
the strangling beast
until his agony is past.

Who knows how much or little
anyone suffers? Animals
are honest through their inability
to lie. Man, in his last hour,
has a compulsion to come clean.
Death is the sacred criterion.
Always it is passion that
confuses the issue. Always
I think that no one
can be sadder than I am.
For example, now, watching
this after-sunset
in the sky on top of Boston
I am wanting part of my life back
so I can do it over.
So I can do it better.

Angels, where were you when
by best friend did herself in?
Were you lunching beside us
that final noon, did you catch
some nuance that went past my ear?"
Did you ease my father out
of his cardiac arrest that wet
fall day I sat at the high crib bed
holding his hand? And when
my black-eyed susan-child ran
off with her European lover
and has been ever since an unbelonger,
were you whirligiging over
the suitcases? Did you put
your imprimature on
that death-by-separation?

It's no consolation, angels,
knowing you're around
helplessly observing like
some sacred CIA. Even
if you're up here, flattened
against the Fasten Your Seatbelt sign
or hugging the bowl in the lavatory,
we are, each one of us, our own
prisoner. We are
locked up in our own story.

From Maxine Kumin, Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: New and Selected Poems (1982).

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