V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





    Antibellum Plantation, Stone Mountain Park, Georgia

We leave the one-room schoolhouse
with the double meaning of its woodenness
spelled out in ranks of hair-shirt oaken
benches and plank-top desks without a blemish
of utility.  No inkwells, no pencil minders to give
them purpose.  It is a place of the truly elementary—
of bone-tired inertia and of rote, and educative homilies
about the patriot saints.  On the slatted wall
above the teacher's desk, the Father of His Country
still presides from the unfinished portrait
by Gilbert Stuart.  Disembodied head, dead white
on a black ground of rusty satin.  It speaks to dark eternity,
bright virtue: the mythic cherry tree; the bitter winter
of faithfulness, Philadelphia locked up like an English gaol;
the patience to stick till the screw turned tight
at Yorktown.  Did the hardness or the homilies prepare
those boys of 1850 for Sunday strolls to come,
ranked like Continentals, into the rifle's obliterating jaws?

My wife has four-leaf clover on her mind.
I've never seen one, and she abhors the vacuum
of my skepticism.  She prays that God will let us find
this unicorn of flora, and as we walk the well-groomed lawn,
she plucks one up, a tiny Intercession.  Yet there's another:
I stoop, incredulous, and here it is, the four plump lobes
like the fingers of a cartoon hand.  I laugh the sinner's
incongruous guffaw, while she thanks God, He
who helps our unbelief.  I think how I want to be with her
when lightning X-rays open spaces, or the car knifes
across four lanes of highway, the shattering median,
the onrushing flail of steel.  Then I recall those war-
dead Southern boys, bent to their hard-assed catechism,
their Calvinist Lives of the Saints—
three hundred thousand war-dead boys.

For now, I take my little cache of Immanence
and press it in a book, a fragile homily
between the pages of a novel, nouvel, new.


© by Lee Passarella


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