Bio Note: Don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a good chunk of my pandemic time revisiting older poem drafts and doing some revisions, one of which is included here, “Father.” Since I’ve been a daily writer for years, I often turn up unpublished poems I’d forgotten (“Ferret of God”). Plus another by request: “In Praise of the Coelacanth” relates to Tad Richards’s “Informal” column this month. For those who don’t already know me, I’m a retired college teacher and unretired poet and amateur photographer. More detail on my doings in poetry and photography available on my website: www.davidgrahampoet.com/.
In Praise of the Coelacanth
Plain, inexplicable things— mitochondria and chloroplasts— we call dim engines of life, and it’s true, you know it’s true. Mice with excised brains continue pondering electrical grids, relentless little forgeries like the valley fog which is not fog. Van Meegeren, a crooked Dutchman, sold his fake Vermeer to the Nazis, who paid him in phony currency— which is true, you know it’s true. Faces of the saints develop on bathroom tile, on bread baked by honest women—such collusion between motive and surprise. A century ago, a sailor tattooed Jesus and Mary on his back to ward off the deserved whip, which it didn’t, you know it didn’t. Today I read, by the light of my single gaudy text, miracles— that there are stones which call out in voices of the dead; And devoted ones who bleed without wound, from hand and foot. But a counterfeit Lazarus gapes from every newsstand, you know he does. No one less photogenic than coelacanth, fish deeper than we have been, dragon-scaled throwback with dim brain, who heaves along the bottom muck, ferocious and slow in those iron depths. They say this fish escaped the ark out of the sheerest good luck— which is true, you know it’s true.
Originally published in Magic Shows. Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1986.
Business or pleasure: what brings me here? For some reason I want to tell the desk clerk my father is dying. Don't know why I don't. Definitely business: bottom of the bottom line. I have no father but here he lies, ashen in final fever. A friend writes well, this is the big one, isn't it? I feel oddly honored. In his room cold coffee and an orange hard as stone. Phone disconnected. Closet full of his shirts. We count his breaths, discuss any changes. Weather report for a single room. Nurses on break outside at a picnic table, smoking and joking. Breath and smoke mingle, yes. My mother kisses him, urges him to let go. But he left us years ago. We're the ones holding on. Down the corridor someone has hung wind chimes. As if to demonstrate the lack of wind.
An earlier version of this poem appeared on the blog Truck in 2014.
Ferret Of God
Lamb of God, actually—it crouches atop a tombstone from the 1870s, having eroded and dissolved in the Lord's abundant weather, losing both ears and half its nose to time's vandalism—so it just looks like a ferret slinking over the stone, shifty-eyed and alert. The grave-lettering, too, half gone, no longer proclaims a usable faith but melds with moss and stain as any life alters in memory. A century of rainfall, sun, wind, ice, and drifted snow steadily leach meaning from words once aimed . heavenward. Cast a cool eye on a lamb whittled down to these feral curves, more anxious and beautiful than planned. Beauty of this immaculate wind, of melting seasons and the sudden flare of the year's first flowers poking from the urns of winter.
©2021 David Graham
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell her or him. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is what builds the community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL