Spring 1990, Volume 7.2

JOHN HENDRICKSON

The Sweetest Word on Sunday
(A Memory)
 
The sweetest word on Sunday was Ahhh-men.
You'd wait and wait through all you knew by heart
for that one talismanic word to cleave the sabbath
air and put an end to everything:
The text, the lesson for the day, the prayer for
everyone from presidents to "Sika" Multanen, or
someone gone astray, who'd drunk too much and
fallen from a bridge (as no good Finn should)
for crops and rain, that came or didn't come,
for food and health and God knows what
until you thought the pappi couldn't pray
another word–but he could, and did,
right down to your most hidden sins.
And then the sermon: Hell and Damnation,
an hour of eternity, known and felt,
in slow second intervals one by one.
Satan's bad enough, but Saatana
rankling on a Finnish Lutheran tongue
is harsh as breaking boards
and just the sound to make you sweat
for what you'd done–or wanted to.
Dancing, cards, movies, girls with sun-browned legs,
and things you'd think about when church was done
where willows bend.
Saatanaˇ
How that changed the shape of things.
You couldn't want and not believe
that hell was near on Sunday
and just the place for you–
until he said that sweetesst word of all,
Ahh-men.
And life took up again.

Penelope

Matched with an aged wife,
I mete and dole unequal
law unto a savage race that
. . . . know not me.
Tennyson, "Ulysses"

Aged Wife!

I'll give you aged wife,
you old bag of bones.
Who looked after the lousy castle
While you were off in Troy raising hell?
And for what–that slut Helen?
Come on! You call that a cause?
God's bones, man,
you might as well make Cleopatra
the reason for a crusade. . . .
And me here all that time
surrounded by horny opportunists,
weaving that stupid tapestry day after day
and undoing it every night,
thinking only of you.
Aged Wife!
Just how young do you think you are?
skin like crushed leather,
your belly hanging down to your knees,
gone in the teeth, prostate shot–
and you were no spring chicken when you left.
Ten years, ten years
on the windy plains of Troy,
and another ten coming home–
a matter of a few hundred miles at most.
Squandering months on that bitch Circe,
enjoying yourself playing the world traveler.
Polyphemus, the Sirens, Scylla, Charybdis,
and the rest of it–
nothing but self-indulgence.
"I have become a name. . . ˇ"
Holy Zeus! You make me puke.
I'll give you a name!
Try bum, bastard, or philanderer.
Leaving me and little Telly to manage
any way we could for twenty years,
now damning him with faint praise
(fit to pay adoration to your household gods)
as though he couldn't smite your damned
"sounding furrows" with the best of them.
Heroes. . . . damn! damn! damn!
Always finding the best of reasons
for the worst ideas, and always so sure
that what you haven't done
will pale beside whatever it is
you think you are going to do.
"A bringer of new things. . . ."
Oh, yes, new desolation, tears, and yearning.
Well, I'll tell you what, Bringer,
you leave this time
and it's no more tapestry.
Telly gets it all–
the island, the castle, the herds,
the savage people . . . . the lot.
And I'll be dowager queen,
and you and your hearty mariners can row west
'til the bloody cows come home.

At Haying Time
 
Those little things that flee before the knife
are in his dreams at haying time.
He wakes remembering, as though the futile act
had just been played again,
the mad urge toward the empyrean
on sickle-shattered wings.
No blood is ever quite so red
as when it streaks a mower bar
or flecks a measured swath of summer green.
He knows the rage of gods
when something's gone awry
beyond all will or knowledge to repair.
Those warm bodies struggle in his helpless hands
until the tale is told–
except in dreams,
where little things will not be still.