Jonas Zdanys – From St. Brigid’s Well

Zdanys_JonasJonas Zdanys was born in New Britain, Connecticut in the United States. He received his B.A. in English from Yale University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the State University of New York. A bilingual poet and translator, he is the author of forty-five books, forty-one of them collections of poetry, written in English and in Lithuanian, and of translations from the Lithuanian. He has received a number of prizes, book awards, writing and travel grants, and public recognitions for his own poetry and for his translations. He is also active as an editor and a literary panelist and has served as a reviewer for Wesleyan University Press, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, and World Literature Today. He has taught at the State University of New York and at Yale University and was a Scholar-in-Residence in the Yale Center for Russian and East European Studies. He is currently Professor of English and Poet in Residence at Sacred Heart University, where he teaches creative writing and modern poetry seminars and directs the program in creative writing.


From St. Brigid’s Well

The pitch of the rag tree
across from the eternal field
is indifferent to the solitary
bird hung like a piece
of old cloth on a branch
with a thin black wire.
The silence of dry grass
ripples down the rows
of ordered fences, darkness
lumbering toward the barn,
one lit lamp in its hand.
On the pile of strange rocks,
a blue rag flutters toward
the hole in the ground,
marred in a helpless sprawl.
The hour passes,
lost in the shape of light.

Rain begins
as morning rises,
circles and passes
on the clear surface
of the bay.
It’s summer now.
The holy fire,
narrow and formless,
moves among
the spirals
of spider webs
and weeds
up across
the headlands.
Tiny blue flowers,
moulting feathers,
three of us
dreaming of small winds
as lights in distant
houses go out.
As they gather their nets
from the prophecies
of darkening water,
fishermen pray
for a way home,
for the taste of dust
to settle again
in their cold mouths.

The consistency of birds
in the higher branches
twists to a weaving of green
threads that drift along
the dimming hills.
To be sustained and free
in this place
is to conjure
a world of unbroken
circles and denser meanings,
the open strand
perfectly designed,
perfectly contained.
Five miles out
past Dunquin,
the last parish
folds to the west.
The earth rises
from a hard shore
and the vastness
of the sky
is more tangible
than the sea.
I stand, arms extended
in every direction,
in a pillar of light,
triumphant and immortal.
I know at last
the brightness
of all my days.

The first words
took shape inscribed
on tree and stone,
the naming of the dead,
coiled deep into sky
and earth, cries from
the ancient narrows
and the sudden
unfoldings of truth
in the voiceless sea:
the interlaces and plaits
that struck us
with the radiance
of an eternal light.
We are not yet there.
Sing me home.
I am the word,
the dust in heaven’s eye,
my skin carved
in hieroglyphs and runes.
Divinations of light
huddle against
the summoned ghosts
and wind inherits
time’s hollow stump.
A sweet breeze blows
on blue wings,
the sun clouds over.
I stand ready in the tide.

I am overwhelmed by birds:
cormorants, egrets, guillemots,
grebes and gannets,
gulls and terns and auks,
skylarks, swallows, blackcaps,
shearwaters, petrels,
pipits, dunnocks and chats,
and the hooded crows
that follow me everywhere,
everywhere, follow me
with their song and their whirl,
shaping their own full spheres.
Here, by the harbor wall,
their world perches on my head.

The reflection of the sun
on the ample passing clouds
comes in angles and planes
along the stone wall
and through the kitchen window.
The past is peeled away
and the present moment
shelters and flows.
I know I can live
forever in this hard
coming of light,
in the echo of the world
in these words and art.
The sun traces truth
on the changing air,
musters the essence
of love and night.
Ephemeral and eternal,
it awaits the dry
blessing of salvation
along the edge
of the distant ridge,
grays to nothing
in the thousand shadows
of my hands.

I pressed her down
among the bluebells
and sang to myself
as her eyes opened
and closed and her hair
brushed lightly
against my face.
The blossoms fell
fresh and alone,
sunlight glancing off
her arms and thighs
in the meadow
near the sea,
and I knew then
that God and I
are both still alive,
still magical and rapt,
in the flowers and reveries
of this secret place.

I heard my name
called by the trees,
saw my face
in the meadows
and flowers,
felt my hands
wrapped
in spider webs
and down.
Wings open
at the other edge
of the sea,
tip to flight
above gorse fields
and marshes.
I want to be lifted up
where evening falls,
move high above
the dancing waters,
sing like the pipes
across the crowns
of birds –
letting go letting go
letting go
of the constant sorrows
of this place.

The sun cut early across
farmhouses and stonewalls
half up the blue mountain.
White butterflies, faultless
on the horizon,
transformed to rose petals
and seeds of wild dill
in the cold of early morning
and the dogs in the barnyards
scuttled and coughed.
A strange world lingers here,
stubborn as the sea recedes
and the wind blows
its own unrest –
then the lift of pure sound
as the soul ascends,
dark green and gold,
and skimmers for hope
in the grasses and ferns.
The turf embers cool
in the open hearth
in the corner
of the front room
and the blue vase
on the wooden table
breaks with white flowers.

The margins of the meadows
and sands are diminished
by the changing light.
The balance of the day
shifts to its close
and time is arbitrary
in the bodiless disorder
of becoming and being.
All around me
are the opening patterns
of the flights and calls
of birds, incantations
that rouse the wind and sea,
the divinations
of spoons and waters
where the future rests.
On these cliffs, the sun sets
to a darker blue, a sanctuary
for the struck and blind.
Their visions heal
the hidden women as they rise
from the liberating ground,
dancing white in the ashes
of the holy fire.
I ascend and descend,
reach through the light
for an easier seeking,
prepare myself
for eternity, for rain.

 

 

 

 

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