Four virtues

I. Audacity

Sure, you’re asking where we come from—

We outburst the frost
the uncracked ground
like a maple sprout that thrills at the sun
and clasps the deep-slanting rays
—their promise
that in a month buds will
dilate to the moist breeze kiss

I’m adrenal-pumped
with the impulse to instigate
past borders enforced by ramparts or submission guidelines
propel the indelible and fuck the ineffable

Clinch it!
’Cause we were abruptly born, we
don’t just prophesy the toppling of kings
We drag the depreciated present into
the days after tomorrow
We’re confidence-carried
winging through
our next three thousand leagues
no islands to the horizon

At the end we’ll go down
ever fighting
That’s the spirit

Balkers get out of my way—
’cause my artillery’s crackling

here’s the new truth
just stir it around
take some yourself
won’t kill you



II. Forbearance

I tell you why I ask, and ask again,
asking till I really know
—for I don’t, in truth

Hold on as I try to explain

I want to be like a summit
or a valley whose purifying streams elbow the riverbanks    —    to
be as the maple spreads its branches to gather the soft falling snow
be as the forsythia bends to the wind

My intent is on what’s to come and not what has flooded us with tears—
so I can withdraw the hand that reaches to snap off the ends of stammered confession,
out of the past, barreling into the will

Because none will change for the good reasons that I can give
But the adversaries I placate today
may thrive into the view they like to hold of themselves

Do you understand now?
Let me try another tack

I don’t ask why it took a thousand years for those unnoticed to announce injury
My own story is in my chest
curled under my hands
like all your stories will be someday

What is mastery?
It pads in quietly, unwrapping the judgments around sin
to water the ground
on which one has unspread her pallet among the others in the dark

I hope you’re with me now

Time, the least forgiving of the dimensions, itself will justify us
though in the interim
the world may end



III. Regret

Oh hell…thirty-four shards shaken across a cramped landscape to catch
in the fingertip or heel
The sudden shattered heirloom plate
victim of an earthquake
in the hallway,
or expectations that held on longer than they could
in crooked tiaras that dangled young hopes before expired illusions
But should I have said that?
Seems so long ago
Today I must have stood up again from a hollow mattress
wiping away memories of gas tanks going eighty
the rusted scaffolds of poisoned production lines
fibers long-lunged
Do you, too, think back on the years you had the power to act?
Did you remember enough to write
a poem when the thought came?
Now accept life’s endings
With great wisdom great rage
Those still steadfastly thoughtful bear their years like crabapples
What else to bewail—
while time remains—
until only time remains
I cannot shelve the thoughts that belch out still
In the empty basin where once dinghies skimmed a glowing lake
was drained for drab blocks where a hundred families
rise from their motionless beds each morning and
mourn rudderless lives in the evaporated valley
Oh were I to be reborn as an island in this marsh
I would restock it from the honest catacombs of a clouded discernment



IV. Vision

Above a wind-pummeled plain a mountain rallies the clouds, and halfway
up the mountain is a tiny grove of junipers, and in the grove the sun casts
a scrutiny under which all stand equal.

This morning, I sang the fogs that ascended the mountain to the storehouses
of Heaven and surged in revelation. I saw out the eyes and took my sense
from the nostrils of every creature that stirs.

Descending the mountain with gathering regret, I was embraced by a
village where the mill tower is master and a quarry sinks men’s toil,
where the dwellers line the hulks of vacated tanks with tight-woven
rugs and lay out gems from the crags that guard the ridges.

Humility came to me only as I lifted a rock from the forest floor, and
on a plaque underneath the rock were letters I did not recognize in a
language that was never spoken; but when they started to blaze,
I read their call to end the consensus of devastation.

Then I brought the words of forbearance to the edge of the sea and
spoke it to ships that tow vast bulkheads and fearsome canisters.

Though wisdom will bring me unhappiness, I’ll tolerate the ecstasy of viewing
worlds into which I cannot step.

Cry out with me to the stars, and listen to them echo your exultation, glory,
splendor, transcendence, ascent, audacity for the next ten thousand years.

A choir of the ages is rehearsing for an epiphany, inhaling the sweet
whistled air of the mountain ranges and trilling upon their breath
the only hope granted by this epoch to humanity.



This poem was published in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Soul-Lit.

Andy Oram
August 22, 2020

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