Marsh Hawk Review is an online poetry journal sponsored by the Marsh Hawk Press collective. Marsh Hawk Review will appear twice a year, under the revolving editorship of collective members. Each issue will offer a selection of poems solicited by the editor, in addition to new work posted by poets in the collective.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nathan Swartzedruber

Viva la Vida

A book of roses, a flock of birds,
a seat in the highest tree.
These were the things that
could cure her. These were clasped
in gold about her neck. And when
her husband came to carry her
to his room, she would lay
her hand out on the bed and stay.
And he would stay also.

In the night her icons fell from her.
Out of reach, the trees, all sky.
On the hill, on the passing train,
in the mirror she saw
a dove in its ceaseless crying,
such cries until there is no pain
but only its sound,
the many pieces of its shadow.

She lights a candle to watch
the flame erode the rim until
its cup is too full and the clear wax
overflows like saints, the signs
of a healing touch, supernal.
Not with love, not forgiveness.
There is pain and its cessation.
This is her holiness.

Yet she awakes. Her hand has found
the ribbon tied to keep her in the frame.
It is blue. In her eyes, violet and gray as bone.

Soon there will be singing.
Soon the animals will rise and
realizing they are late cacophonize
an onset of flood and famine.
They will drown the day,
crack the corset of her form
and leave her without a twin to hold.
She will go before she can see
her sudden eyes, before she can even
draw breath to speak. But while life lasts,
there is no other. Life is all.

The Most Powerful Hand

When Bishop Louis of Tolouse opened his mail on a Spring day in
1297, he found a pack of recipe postcards to publicize a new cooking
magazine. Pulling off the cellophane he saw pictures, not of completed
casseroles, but of a mountained land in stunning heat. On stone faces
he saw fingers. In the crags and shadows he saw eyes like the pebbled
leather of a glove; he saw La Mano Mas Poderosa, the most powerful
hand, and his heart was moved toward this land rear-facing Ruth's
Chicken Bake, and Sourdough Biscuits.
He was also exhausted from his own labors, and let's face it,
very hungry from feeding the poor and deciding not to be king. He
stood, tucked the card in his vestiges, and walked down the stone
steps and crouching arches to the planning room, its long top
laminated with a map of the undiscovered world. To Alta California he
traced his finger along El Camino Real. And he took into his hand a
cross like a child's sandbox rake and pushed a robe-stone figure from
the Mission that bore his name to the South.
In California, three bells rang out. The Sisters of the Suspended
Heart, who had felt the call a mere 500 years late, packed their
relics and gear and a pair of freshly corked Birkenstocks each, and
set out on the Royal Highway. No missal sent them. No ordinance saw
them go. Sister Theresa saw a vision of a hill, and so she led the
way, waving her kindred past the strip malls that would found L.A.
South and east along the roughy coast, wading through sand and
sun, caught in the tide that was the vision of the surf, undrinkable
arm-lengths off. Withering to dowel rods under their robes, Sister
Margaret at night climbed up on a washtub and prayed that a hundred
birds might steal them away, but the morning found her standing still,
a feather clutched in each palm, the angels preempting her stigmata
with their wings. Fortyish days they traveled, following the tracks of
Sister Theresa's rolly luggage by day; watched over by the round
shadow of Sister Margaret by night, until they arrived.
Theresa saw it first, holding her hand against the sky like one
lifts a branch to pass beneath it, squinting at her outline on the
sand and finding more shadows beneath. She marked the place with a
stone and named it Ruth, saying, "I have followed," as indeed she had.
And it wasn't until the construction was nearly completed on the
convent--even the plumbing switched on—that they realized that there
was no one else around. Not for days of miles. Sister Margaret pulled
the barbs from her feathers in despair, made quills from the remains,
and wrote, "This stinks" in the drywall dust of the new chapel. It was
Sister Mary who realized that Margaret's tears, splashed in the white
debris, formed the finest potato flakes. Sour were her tears when
Maggie woke to find her calling was to cry, which is just as well.
Mary led the refurb crew, moving walls and rooflines to feed
Margaret's feeble fire. The other Sisters baked.
Hot dish, stew, breads and biscuits, Debbies, Ho-Hos and the
rest. From the single bell tower there rose such a cacophony of
carbohydrates that they were sorely temptationed to beat apart the
bakeware that sealed each dish and partake. They were worn out. So
when Bishop Louis realized, five days after raising his arm, that he
had failed to request three-day shipping or indeed place a rush of any
kind on his order, he threw the postcards into a drawer with a gesture
he was only barely able to dial back to, "Spit." The women looked up
from the terra cotta UPS truck they hoped to breathe into life and
felt the air had changed.
They set aside all hope of getting their own laser label printer,
and broke down the shipping boxes, No. 4s and No. 2s. They set kettles
on their baking fires, and when they had been heated, sighed sisterly
sighs as they settled in to bathe and considered the sight of stones
that turned briefly into pilgrims and then back. When Sister Theresa,
holding up her hand to see the echo of the shadow they had sought,
announced that their mission had been accomplished, they all brought
forth their rolly luggage and said many prayers of thanks that the
Most Powerful Hand had led them to this place, and also let them go.
Sister Theresa set before them the only relic that seemed pertinent—a
hand-held oven timer of the True KItchen meant to hold one AAA battery
but which miraculously held two. They prayed together, had been
meaning to do more of that. Set the timer as the spirit moved, then
followed its calm measure into the rock, adding their clear faces to
the stones', that are also waiting for the glorious Day of the Lord.

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