Joseph Donahue


Corpse Flower

Your spiritual life, by

contrast, were it a plant,

would not be native to some

rain forest, but to an immense desert,

fiercely inhospitable, crossed

only by satellites on their way

to some spot on the planet

worth monitoring, not

this scorched corner of it all

where blossoms spare

and intricate thrive on only a hint

of wet, a puff of molecules before dawn,

a ghost of dew too thin to glisten . . .

What divine eye passing overhead

finds you on the way to the opening night

of an unhappy production where

some will drop their lines,

some their swords. Others will

crouch backstage, weeping,

or rush into the shattered scene

that now resembles the last chapter

of  a physics textbook where

certain laws of nature

no longer align with

common sense. Suddenly

it seems, the Stone Age awakes.

It has become the Bronze Age.

Arrowheads of flint are obsolete.

A new tribe floats in from the east

with different linguistic origins

and new ideas about how

to dispose of the dead . . .

Party lights dangle across

a deserted construction cite.

Early evening. The pale houses

seem steeped in ink. The river

could only be the Hudson.

The shreds of water lift your heart

which is not untroubled, as the enclosed

but unfurnished room darkens

and is torn into shadows.

The last light of day glitters

minutes more in the flowing.

Lightning pierces the earth.

Now the earth can be fruitful.

As before, in the shadow

of Aeria, city of air, said to be

magnificent, though only

these clouds have survived.

It pains me. That was my city.

My home is drifting from me,

My home has blown away.

My home now is at most

fireworks, green, orange,

white, blue over a lake

announcing how the divine

flies free of its attributes,

leaving the world adrift in ash . . .

Though many years later

you waved me over.

In the huge lecture hall

you had saved me a seat.

The professor spoke clearly

but I couldn’t follow him.

You were too close.

My heartbeat was

all I could hear . . .

The Roles of Proteus

Night had been bitter,

but now swirls of green

light fill my closed

eyes, an Arabic tangle

on the back of my eyelids,

a loop of grass dipped in the sun . . .

But what sea does not display its waves?

And so, at the theater at noon

we will build, the director

says, a ramp for gods

to proceed from the deep.

Yesterday, the role of

Proteus was cut in three:

I am the portion of purest evil.

Now I can sing out: I was

such a bitch last night

and you just let me

get away with it! Today,

we block steps for death.

In this scene, I’m cop,

unclear about my

motives: how is it,

again, I ask them all,

my shape-shifting upholds

the authority of the state?

All anyone tells me is:

That’s Shakespeare!

It’s a paradox, much like:

If you were dead right now,

what you could there be

about which to say,

you are dead? Or,

that a few hours ago

this fruit hung on a vine

in the sun, much like

a promise that

exceeds our need

or a closed hand

that, someday, will be

pressed, open

with compassion,

to our suffering faces . . .

But for now, so many

are crammed into

this comedy that

angels have been

added. They step in

mid scene, clap: time

stops, and we are

switched out,

one for another . . .

Joseph Donahue's most recent collections are Incidental Eclipse (2003),and the first volume of an ongoing poetic sequence, Terra Lucida (2009). The second volume, Dissolves, is forthcoming from Talisman House. He lives in Durham North Carolina.