FOR MY FATHER

You sign your full name with a stick on the freshly poured

Path of cement: the end of the last letter returns to

your first name In the wet dust. Around, a slew of peonies

Hurry to bloom before the bluebells, before you plant them.

You surprise me with dill seeds from Grandmother

That you kept since our last trip home.

You brought her in this soil and now we are together

Through plants we touched in different countries.

Remember? A cart full of red and white grapes at the head

Of our vineyard, red wine pressed years before,

Goat’s cheese and tomatoes spread under the oak tree

And horses let loose for children whose voices ripened the earth.

*

I have the picture in which you crossed yourself in front of St Mary’s icon at Vatra.

 It was the first week of chemotherapy when we had the service with

Seven candles and seven prayers and seven readings from the Gospels.

Seven times we walked to the altar where the priest painted crosses with holy oil

On our cheeks, on our foreheads, and the backs of our hands.  For we must sin

With our minds, hurt others with our hands, and carry our shame on our faces.

So we try to redeem ourselves with our minds, and hands, and clean our cheeks.

I look at your pale profile, at your balding head in front of those candles

And ask what the mother in red and her child in white,

carefully placed In the whitest of wood frames, will do for you.

We cried with you: Mother, I, and a congregation of exiles

Dreaming their own into the smoke of the censer.

*

We are small gardens in strange places, small voices –

Prayers weakening with age and heavy accents hammering wrong syllables:

Does God understand us in English or our own language still?

You choose the path with handwriting that marks your name and year

And I carry your garden in my head, along with the memory of you and Mother

Embracing on the doorstep the day we received the news:

In the months to come what binds us is the most silent of prayers, unuttered still.

Orthodox Easter, 2022

By now even the faith has got it wrong,

The Patriarch held hands with the invader

And praised the unjust war, with crossed candles.

The faithful broke ranks, the filigreed eggs

Sat in baskets like stones, the sweet bread

Laid on the table like a closed book.

And us, aghast at what love means

In different homes, to different people,

Unable to choose a place to pray,

Except God’s true garden: the forests,

And the sea marshes where perfect

Great white herons dance in pairs

Just above our heads, their sinewy necks

Above still water: love in mirrors—free,

Wild, calling out the pink crab apple blooms.

The dwarf pines send forth long cones,

An offering of candles lit by the sun.

Christ rises on great heron’s wings.

A Prayer for Europe

The warring language floats in the winter air

At the words of one dictator. People forget

Preparations for Clean Monday to begin the war.

Across the border, children wake up

In the night, to the sound of bombs,

A neighborhood grocery store will turn to ruin,

And old men, together with young women

Will take up their guns, to join the army.

Old mistrust rises poisoning words.

If I could halt the madness with a call

To prayer, a reminder of old kindnesses

We all so easily tend to forget.

*

Today Europe is a woman

Whose body has been sliced by the birthing

Knife, over and over, her cesarean

Wound badly patched birth after birth,

Her womb crisscrossed; flesh hardened

Along ridges of history written in blood.

Protect its life-giving womb, slice her no more.

Consider the early patches of snowdrops

Under the wheels of the tanks.

Would those who fly the bomber planes

Notice the change of seasons in the sky

For the peace it could bring, and fly back home?

Will neighborly kindness revisit memory?

The world lifts its hands in prayer as Europe

Suffers. This is no birth.

Stony Brook, 27 February 2022