Three Poems By Mark Wunderlich
by Mark Bibbins, Editor
Gebet bei Ausfahrt in die See (Prayer for a journey by sea)
Look at me from your pitiless distance, look
as I give myself to the feral sea
where I hang between atmosphere
and the hidden sands below, your fool in this
plaything of a boat, which may no longer save nor salvage.
See me here, face in my hands
wet with spray and sweat, sick with the knowledge
of my unworthiness. The wind pitches,
waves break where they will, neither soil nor stone
beneath me, while overhead the dumb sky strips off
its wet shirt and tosses it to the wind’s hands.
I beg you, push up my chin with your thumb
and press your bearded cheek to mine. Settle me
with the dark soil of your eyes, you who made us
and all the other pieces of the damaged world.
What we men offer each other is nothing
compared to your cold body lying down atop my own,
prostrate on the deck, your breath humid in my ear.
Last night I dreamt the ship grew down and pinions,
a hard and rubbery bill, while the prow shook itself
into the neck of a swan. I clung to its back like a louse
and we flew, feet drawn up into feathers,
the glacier of night creeping by beneath us.
I have forsworn all the others, feel you
tightening me to your large thighs,
nothing left to keep us apart.
I am your little ram,
burying his muzzle in thick grass of your pasture,
folded by you at night, herded by day,
a dedicated dog nipping at my hocks.
The day will come for you to draw
the bright sickle of the moon
across my wooly throat.
Do it with love, without regret.
Dwell in My House
Dwell in my house. Take up your spot in the tightest of corners,
in the crumbling cow hair plaster mending the wall. Be found
bound in the blackest nook of the hearth from which
the intelligent eyes of the cats peer forth.
With your care, do dwell there, for otherwise I will be lost,
left to wander the brackish marsh of doubt
left to nurse my small resentments, arguing with no one
while I hoe the sow thistles from betwixt the rows of greens.
Come to me with your palms turned up, your brown hair
pulled back from that open face,
your ring of golden keys ready
to unlock the houses of the Patriarchs.
Snuff out the tomato blight, the beetles in the corn, call the wrens
with their needle beaks to eat the green worms
ciphering the cabbages’ leaves.
Pour down on us the soft water of your rain.
Build your room inside me, for I do suffer.
When I am sleepless & tally what I have lost,
or when I feel for nodes swelling in my groin,
lay your hand upon my brow and shut the hot lids of my eyes.
When I hurry to lock my door, stay my hand.
When I see my aging, childless body,
bring me back to the company I keep.
All this will be taken from me, this I know.
There is more for me to suffer, though I wait for you to bare yourself,
to touch that bloody muscle in your chest.
Adapted from the Heinrich Weiss manuscript, 1791 house blessing, Schwenkfelder Library, Pennsburg, Pennsylvania.
You, looking down upon us from your canopy of air, to you
I commend my body and my brain, & that of my beloveds,
all that I own — stone pile of a house, tilting barn, garden & beloved beasts,
orchards, woods, my sweet furred animals,
the white mare & the brindled gelding,
the goats with their worldly eyes,
my reading & teaching from the books I read —
let it all rest in your giant hand.
You hang your lantern in the far window for me to see
until the cool blue of night burns and all the world is awake.
With your sorghum broom you sweetened my path, pulled
the woolen shawl around me while I slept.
That the lightning struck the willow
and did not fall — for this I am grateful.
Help me to work. When I mow or plant,
when I seal the summer fruits in jars,
slaughter or pluck, slit the rabbit’s throat, butcher the fallow hen,
when I mend my rended garments, stitch the blanket top,
it is for you. When I wash or scrub upon my knees,
it is to see you more clearly. Each drop of sweat, each muscle pull is yours.
When I tilt my head to gossip,
sting my fleshy tongue.
Your unseen ones have linked willowy arms, drawn knives
tipped with stars and cut down the rat snake coiled in the cellar beams.
They have kept the unleashed Rottweiler from turning down our lane.
Bless Carlos, sharpening his saw in the yard, his night-lamp the emblem of your favor.
There is much for which I am ashamed.
Your invisible world surrounds me.
Let me aid the bachelor neighbors & the harelip with her stupid dog,
the tinker with his yard of noise, & the shape that parts the curtains
of the empty house across the marsh.
With your brush of feathers dust away my footprints.
Stay with me, here in the house.
Urge, with your holy claw, the scratching of my pen.
Adapted from the Johann Heinrich Dechert of Basel house blessing. Roughwood Collection, Library Company of Philadelphia.
Mark Wunderlich’s books of poems are Voluntary Servitude (Graywolf Press, 2004) and The Anchorage (U. of Massachusetts Press, 1999), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. He is a professor of literature at Bennington College.
For more poetry, visit The Poetry Section’s vast archive. You may contact the editor at email@example.com.