Oracle

For David Yezzi

Twice a day I walk with the dog,
this mutt with shepherd ears,
past the drain at the bottom of Ratcliff.
I’ve even looked it up, the type of drain
it is—an inlet drain, below an iron lintel.

Morning and evening … Still,
the odor takes me aback. A voice
you’ve turned a deaf ear to whose breath
assails … I halt, then tug the dog
across the street. But go in my mind with the flow
to the bayou. There I’d jog with the dog,

Vanishing Point

Hendrick Cornelisz. van der Vliet, Intérieur de l’Oude Kerk à Delft (1660–1670)

Already (my birthday, falling in mid-October,
a week away) pumpkins on stoops
and witches with brooms and gauzy spooks
asway on wrought-iron railings. These
disturb the grid that is at dusk
our habit to walk, a grid of blocks—

galleries, one and then another
until a church in Delft, the floor of its nave,
siphons my vision. Flanked by colonnades,
arcades with pointed arches,
beneath a wooden vault: a stone-slab grid—
receding lines that aim as though at God

“Near the End”: Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch by David Bottoms

Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch
By David Bottoms
(Copper Canyon, 72 pp., $16)

For David Bottoms, “Clearly the door to old age has opened.”

Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch, the poet’s tenth collection, is divided into five sections, each of which has a thematic coherence. Neat epigraphs by R. S. Thomas, Louise Glück, W. S. Merwin, D. H. Lawrence, and James Baldwin and Sylvia Plath clue us in on the themes: the habit of faith despite the apparent absence of God; the look of the world as remembered from childhood (whose presiding spirit is the poet’s grandfather); the presence of the past (as personified by the poet’s father, whose death is fresh in his mind); the “autumn” of life (as personified by the poet’s mother, whose mind and body are failing); and, again, the habit of faith as enacted through prayer.

Nature Morte

A laurel wreath of gold encircling his head,
Napoleon holds aloft a bejeweled crown
for her, for Josephine, who kneels
three shallow steps below him. We who know
scarcely a living soul in the gallery know
who they are, that pair in matching regalia
(crimson velvet busy with golden bees
and ermine-plush) and snap salutes
with our smartphones. Those others who dwarf us?
A card on the wall depicts them in outline,
each of them boasting a number that goes to a name
on a list. If only one could worm his way
through this too solid throng … though who among us
will not swear in a foreign tongue that he’s melting?

With Archibald MacLeish Outside DeBruhl’s Café

Hello, Archie,” James Dickey says with sly familiarity. Archibald MacLeish, a quizzical expression on his face, looks up at him as Dickey closes in and grasps his hand.

In April 1975, when my wife and I were 21-year-old undergraduate sweethearts, we played host at the University of South Carolina to MacLeish, who was there to receive a literary award we students had created. For his part, at the ceremony, this octogenarian poet played ancient Mariner to us students’ Wedding Guest. “My best to James Dickey,” MacLeish had concluded when accepting the invitation. Dickey was the poet-in-residence and our teacher. Ashley Mace and I were both aspiring writers, and I at least was trying out voices and stances, brands of cigarettes and Scotch, and even headwear. “I hope he can be there,” and Dickey was; and Allen Tate was there in name: “Columbia rings with his name and fame,” MacLeish later observed.