Sunday, November 1, 2015

"Windows on the Past" by Aliki Barnstone in honor of All Saints' Day

Winter, with Child, Red Wing, MN: Red Dragonfly Press, 2015.

Windows on the Past

I must have written these lines on a gray autumn day,

knowing the way darkness falls, as the expression goes,

like a shade drawn across the window too early

one day, and earlier the next, steadily dimming

the illumined clouds that released angels in summer,

whose wingspans grew too wide and whose spirits

became the fog gathering in the churchyard I saw

through the window. I’d stand against the wall          

just to keep standing, feeling worse than melancholy.

I wrote, “a sugar maple is inflamed with its own color,

with expansive yellow passion” —the desire

of a younger woman in a sad marriage

I’d rather not remember. When music on the radio

was beautiful, I thought, “none of this is new,”

not even a flute painting in my mind’s eye:

Chagall’s swooping brushstroke encircling the lovers

in a protected, unbroken globe, a huge green bird

perched above, or Matisse’s dancers, hands clasped,

circling fast, each one reaching for the other, leaning

into the momentum of their shared joy,

or the tender hands of mother and child portrayed

so often. “None of this new,” nor is the prayer,

“let none of these be harmed.” If only such human-

made marvels could save us, be our mirrors,

the promise of the saints, as the holy icons are

our windows opening to heaven and a new earth.

I count the years to recall—that was which war

or which eve of war? “If the air is still and a leaf drops

through an unmoving tree, it’s because it’s tired and it’s time.”

What a bleak parable, I must have penned numb, too weary

to “lay aside every weight,” as St. Paul tells his fellow Jews,

and “run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Why is the question, “when will I find peace?”

fixed on the self, not on beyond? I hold my head,

heavy as the world in my hands, and mutter words, futile,

I suppose, against the murderous judgments of leaders

who have their own words based on scripture,

and who swear—so help me, God—just as I do,

and hope to join our voices with “so great

a cloud of witnesses” as encompasses us all.
 --Aliki Barnstone, from Winter, with Child!/WINTER-WITH-CHILD-by-Aliki-Barnstone/p/48144070/category=12175283