A Wesleyan Strain

Poem
Appears in Winter 2008 Issue: Signs of hope
December 1 st 2008
“Coming out of earth and going”

                    —A. R. Ammons

I took my back-of-the-bus pew seat,
brooding on payment, on penalty,
how overdrawn we’d become and how
underwhelming this or that prospect,
uselessly tiny on the horizon.

Service beginning, my mind’s eye saw
again and again the video,
grainy spectroscopy of plumbers,
the camera-led routing of the line
fed all the way out to the sewer.

My eyes strained to see the state of things
daily hidden but always running,
or trying to, if not yet backed up
or stalled by corroded deposits.
It was clear ours was a root problem.

Roots veiled the clay pipe every eight feet
at the seams – the plumber’s snaking lens
revealed it all – like a succession
of closing eyes, hardened arteries,
terrible pozzo of the body.

The soul as well has these troublesome
bellies, where the angles will rebel,
leaving specks and floaties, or sections
of clearings mainly dry, or pockets
of the foulest, stagnant ragwater.

First, invasive measuring across
the line, and then the diagnosis:
“cut away the roots to buy some time,
excavate with Bobcats, scar the yard.
And most of all, you will have to pay.”
By now we have reached the morning’s psalm,
and my subterranean vision
recedes like the reeled-in router’s fits.
(Somewhere memory’s camera shuts off.)
I’m comforted, brought home, by the chant.

My surroundings are announced, “made now”
as the root says, supplant the shipwreck
lodged in my heart. Mine, a blue-veined art.
But onward to the Gospel reading,
where one intones a supernatural blood.

He must increase. He must and not me,
buried with cares, of the earth, earthly.
Blesséd be he, heaven-sent. (Twelve percent
of atheists believe in heaven,
I once read.) By now we share in one bread.

All things into the hand. Testimony.
Some everlasting thing. A kind of tune.
Then a sound is heard, distant at first
but growing louder, nearer, a glad
rattling like radiator noise.

And it maintains itself, clumsily
pinballing, in the walls but lower,
dancing down there as the heat kicks in.
Maybe near the nursery, clanging,
delighting kids, their motionless toys.

Metal proclamation— Blesséd be he,
contracted to a span and wrapped in clay.
Unsearchable, but we all feel
the pipes singing, the glad hammering
within the beams that hold the drywall.

And then the anticipated hymn
from the Nativity of our Lord – man,
I like this one – “Let earth and heaven
combine.” Made perfect, latent no longer,
an unmarked mystery, yet manifest
on earth, manifest below, earth mover,
earful. Love held this vileness close, and love
retired it. Love is manifest below.
The church, it glowed like Barry McGuire,
and the choir was singing to me, heart-warmed.

 

Brett Foster is the author of a book of poetry, The Garbage Eater (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2011), and his writing has recently appeared in Books & Culture, IMAGE, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, and Raritan, and on the Poetry Daily website. He teaches Renaissance literature and creative writing at Wheaton College in Illinois.

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