by Ken Meisel
Because the winterberry’s knuckles have glowing red berries on them,
& also small corsages of green leaves pinned like wings to fingers,
& the gnarled shore oaks shiver like half-naked ladies-in-waiting
beneath a lonesome wind where young couples – warm from this
afternoon’s beach party – snuggle together around logs cut for a fire
& they practice being married, &, also, because the beach is windswept
& unruly & full of abandoned nights, & because it howls & it sours
like a sudden country music song gone ill, gone astray with bad content,
I have to write this epistle to you because a love letter depends on it.
“Everything is an imitation of Christ,” said Thomas a Kempis, that
Augustinian monk writing in his solitude & trying to work his way
to grace; &, maybe, what he meant, is that all love is a nuptial with time,
& our knuckles have red berries on them &, because of it, something
of us is sacrificed on an up-scraped hill, &, to be made a priest involves
a silence & also a waiting, & a lying still under the first autumn-mad stars
that smoke brightly in the sky, like snow lilies trying to spark a beach fire.
I used to believe prayer was desire, made holy. That our fingers, churched,
could make another hotel. But because the winterberry’s knuckles have
red berries on them &, because they bleed, & the green leaves, shivering
in the wind, are corsages on bound fingers reaching up into the unknown
universe to find a nuptial & a tribulation that is – somehow, no matter
how we speak to it anyway – sweet – & because we are the first suffering
that releases its God-resistance – all this hunger that does not eat –
I have to write this epistle to you … the you who eludes me … because
you are a white-laced window, shuddering in a silent hotel over a lake,
& I am a glowing fleck of fire, swirling prayers in ash-blown smoke.
God is a successive ordeal of incarnations, I think. & we are here to follow
an inward solitude that tells us we are no one & that we’re anonymous
before a grace that will not tell us what to see or do. Tell me it isn’t true?
We are just pages being written on. Providences made of sweetness, loss.
Our natures trampled upon by shifting eddies of wanderlust stars, in
a smoked sky that doesn’t even acknowledge us, nor offer to us a living
holy name unless we reach into it, our hands cupped & empty, & hungry
for a glowing fleck of light & for a sacred name we’d own. Its light surrounding
us like a veil. & we’re led to faith by a hope in crops & by prayers to
a sun & a moon that confess to us – each day – their cold liturgies like lost
pronouncements in another language &, also, by a cattle herd of constellations
we give Greek names to – for company – just because we are faithful –
anyway & anyhow – & we’re loyal – always – to that cold namelessness that
holds a greater claim to that mysterious hotel above us. & the young couples,
lighting camp fires here in Wilderness State Park, & sipping their beers
& pretending to be married under the first desolate stars, are resurrections
into that ongoing heavenly trance. & they are living & they’re holy. & they
will be subjected to the sun & the moon & to a Great Lakes freighter
that reflects the night sky in it as it lumbers all the cold way to St. Lawrence.
The end of us follows a full consent into the unknown, I can tell you that. & then,
we are priests & lovers to a solitary call that divines us. & it is unbearable. & it is
holy. & it is on the other side of a white-laced window floating above the lake,
& I want it. It’s been arranged this way & I am its tenant. This is what the red
winterberries on my knuckles say to me when I look down at them & I spread
the green corsages of leaves open to find my godless fingers. & to You, I say –
oh invincible perimeter of wilderness night sky without a name – I am awakened
in you – always – & I am engraved in you & I am staring into that white-laced
window over the lake. & I am at home in all that smoke &, I’m praying – yes –
to that other life. & I’m glowing like a fleck of fire, praying to a God in smoke;
& I am at home in all that smoke; & I am a doomed house. & I believe in it, yes.
Ken Meisel is a poet and psychotherapist, a 2012 Kresge Arts Literary Fellow, a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of eight books of poetry. His most recent books are: Our Common Souls: New & Selected Poems of Detroit (Blue Horse Press: 2020) and Mortal Lullabies (FutureCycle Press: 2018). Meisel has recent work in Concho River Review, I-70 Review, San Pedro River Review, The Wayfarer and Rabid Oak.