By Stephen Kramp - Steubenville, Ohio, USA - 1 March 2013
I cannot hold the candle. I go out
Across the squares where tightropes flick the reins
Of flags and dark centurions shoot skeet
At toothless streetlamps, where a yellow line
Crawls through the ribcage of the ghetto, the street
Knitting to its sleeves the silver skeins
Of rainswept traffic. I roam as if remote
Controlled, as if borrowing a borrowed tune,
And pray for peace, not like a suicide note,
But like a one-armed soldier leaving home,
And like that soldier I know loneliness and doubt
Too well -- the trickle-downs, stop-losses, fines
From temple scribes. See here, hoax lamb’s blood art-
Fully scribbles down the windowpaned
McDonald’s; my own scarlet threads pull taut
Within me, seeing this, much like the twine
That lowered the logo of a saving knot
Down Rahab’s sill. The parking lot’s in flames,
But then it’s not. Headlights -- Get out! Get out!
The drive-thru screams, while the town-crier within
My torso calls, Get in! Everything shouts
Something, testifying to brightness, to pain.
My walk through noise is life.
A church shines cut-
Ruby stained glass through rain’s cellophane,
So dim -- does it no longer dare to jut
A lighthouse above the minnowing sedans?
Has its ray left lurching our fishing boats?
Darkling, barely visible, the cross’s weathervane
Wobbles in the windward hiss, a wrought-
Iron bantam awaiting this acid rain’s
Last loss. I thought I’d walk away. I thought
A lot of things before and after spans
Of bridges burned.
A cloud’s mauve kiss retreats
Behind the teeth of stone, the mouth of stone.
Who is it climbing those stone jaws like a goatherd
Halfway up a mountainside, surveying this plain?
Does he know my loneliness and doubt?
Then mid-doubt, mid-walk, Isaiah comes to mind
And comforts me. John-Baptist bares his throat
Again and presses faces, foreheads streaming,
Forward into the Jordan, the parade route
Of the Holy Trinity, Christ’s passing lane --
How beautiful the feet that bring -- the foot-
Men armed with flowers and lanterns. I remain
There on my concrete river’s concrete
Bank, wondering what else-worlds might obtain,
But then I cease to wonder. One without
A doubt cannot be named, cross-checked, divined
Except that he is a passenger in this night’s
Vehicle, smashed head-on by Cain,
Abandoned by sore Job, and finally spat
On by Caiaphas in his glinting gown.
Adam and Eve clutch dessicated fruits
Nearby, twisted figs, gray grapes -- the vines
Spill dour seeds to roll among roads’ roots
Toward nothingness. Never the twain.
I unspool trails of yarn. My yarn runs out,
So I kick a daybook’s wilting butterfly
Beneath a bus mall bench. These things I treat
Prove real in themselves, if only as chains
Shackling us to shade, fires making bright
Our smoke. They send themselves as valentines
Into the world I walk, for passing boots
To bury beneath a bench, for minivans
To shred with radials unto final dust.
That they gift themselves in providence
Should please. Nostalgia’s object grants regret.
This walk that started sharing shepherds’ wine
Now thinks of fathers ripping robes, of froth
In madmen’s mouths. The incandescent claim
Christ makes reduces eminence to plot
Murder on this so-called Son of Man,
Moriah’s climb forgotten, passé, not
Important, they will override the ram
This time, the one with horns in brambles caught
Fast. Nothing will distract them from the shimmer
Their knives bring down. Death seals us to the state
With all we own.
Yes, once a sun and moon
Followed this tapestry of heads and tails, bought
Into the ars poetica of one
Whose masterwork collected men and God
Along clear highways, hills. His footprints rhymed
With David’s: bold, beloved. His eagle scouts
For him flew orbitals above the lime
Of the wasteland; above thrones swaying the South-
Most queen through moonbeams to swear Solomon
Her liege and sage forever, and to commit
Her court; above the roads of Lebanon
To where now glitters, far from dead seas’ salt,
A crucifix within a Christmas pine,
Though before its prime.
These nubile shoots
Of grass I cripple -- my path curves between
A lambent, empty toll collector’s booth
And a hedgerow of flailing evergreen --
These prove eyeless needles. I was taught truth
Made straight the curling thread, the braid, the torn
Umbilicus, but nothing here is straight,
Nothing true, good. Nothing strikes me down.
Nothing knots my loneliness and doubt.
I’ve trekked back to the church. Its windows chime
Color. Will this outpost last the night?
In a side chapel, scarlet votive flames
Throb cardiac phantasms on the white
Gold tabernacle box. I stand ashamed
And still, my own relics secret in my throat,
My hands, my ribs. Those sanctuary lamps
Burn when there’s no one kneeling. Without
Thinking I pace along the wheelchair ramp,
Scouring my hand against the rampart
Behind the dais, where the stucco womb
Swells outward. Here I pray for peace.
Of rain I see the alabaster rooms
In which stars ply their lockpicks, fingers tight
With concentration, straining to align
Themselves, though separated, with light’s like
Mind (which is the everlasting mind),
To pry their awls through locks grown stiff and dark.
Nature knows no numbers to combine,
No key to twist, so our dim disconnect
Runs deeper still.
Ruling these gridded planes
Are stop signs, but as around the church I make
My skyward rings, I climb the stars. Alone,
Alone, angelic structures! Let men shut
Their squealing shields of doors, let them bleat horns
For nothing’s sake, to drown with incidental
Mockery what calm this small compline
Conveys. My loneliness and doubt will wait
With me; Isaiah’s watch will tell the time
Again, again; and when dawn’s pink checkmates
Street stems, this church will petal from its cone
Its doors, and then I’ll circumambulate
Within. Were all the universe a burning
Holocaust and all the heavens bitterroot,
I’d still seek Christ, though anguished, and then find
In his bare sepulchers the truth. Tonight,
Pilgrims, go in peace -- All I have is thine.
I cannot hold the candle. I go out.