D. R. James’s six collections include Since Everything Is All I’ve Got (March Street) and the chapbooks Why War and Split-Level (Finishing Line). Poems appear in journals and anthologies, including Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford (Woodley) and Poetry in Michigan / Michigan in Poetry (New Issues). James lives in Saugatuck, Michigan, and has been teaching writing, literature, and peace-making at Hope College for 32 years.
Post-Holiday Homily Ending
with a Masculine Rhyme
Consulting this morning’s frigid crystal ball,
I saw that soon the slippery slope of self-pity
would deposit me, flake-like, on the scalp of who cares,
stale-crouton-like on the wilted salad of so what.
You get my drift? My meaning? My M.O.?
Better to sip the watery soup of self-congratulation
than plow on through the gruel of what’s the frigging use.
And enough of this stuffy smokescreen of metaphor!
Let’s instead brave the slide into tell-it-like-it-is
and forget the usual drill, the shoulder slump of…(no!).
After all, what’s life? Surviving the too-small saucer
at the coffee shop, mourning your fading tan, facing
the frosty looks of those you hadn’t meant to offend—
i.e., all the meager details that grease the daily grind.
When most of the genial snow melted away this week,
and the prattling rain painted the backyard brown,
and patches of assiduous ice skulked under puddles,
and shoe-squeak tolled my sneaking the Häagen-Dazs aisle,
I found that I still managed to scrape along just fine,
that life’s vinegar tastes just about like life’s wine.
Wan Sun, No Snow
Mere tufts of snow now dot the leaves,
gleaming like wide mushrooms. Incredible
how quickly that total blanketing
soaked into extinction.
In this most welcome splash of light
nothing seems to mourn: the bleak
yard, the splayed twigs on trees
only conjuring their buds. A blush of blue
soothes its gentle gaze
through the slats of woods.
At last I concede the winter’s
deft control—it settles in my mind
like a cat kneading a woolen throw,
the cat circling twice around before
her graceful lowering into place.
All day the bashful shadows slowly
reposition, gradually compassing northeast.
By dusk, tattered, solo oak leaves lift
in the building breeze, one raised like a bony hand,
waving the season’s inevitable welcome.
Great Chain of Being
From nature’s chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.
You might be mildly surprised to learn
if you haven’t Wikipedia’d it like me
that demons (fallen) fall between (unfallen)
angels and the ranked array of humans—
kings to commoners—and that the wild
depend above domesticated animals,
prized stones then metals above all minerals.
But no more surprised than I in 2006
and again in 2009 when my father
then my mother died, respectively,
and I found I’d climbed the chain a link,
vacating complicated Son. Hardly
the patriarchal type, I felt like those
divine boys becoming kings by default
but deferring to regents or princesses,
my sisters having long been the go-to girls.
Grandson had hung benignly empty since
the 80’s, but this ascent asserted something
fixed, at least for me, my own four sons soon
enough to follow suit once I succumbed.
What healthy offspring feels the enemy’s
in everything from eulogies of siblings
to after-funereal well-wishings? Why
so tender when all those years so numb?
A revelation, at the least, devastation
not close to at most, that train of transition,
the drinking of that cup, so different than
whatever’d stunned before. I’d bumped a ceiling
that had knocked off my socks, reached a mythical
crossroads without an oracle, missed the
oasis in that wry desert of metaphor. Some
children might rise ready for the occasion. Me,
I dangled like bait over an abyss, glimpsed
a crevasse that smacked of the grave.