Two Poems

After a Lecture on Milton and the Concept of Forgiveness

I see where the minutes crowded together
like the footsteps of someone running
away, I tore into the baseline darkness
of my office like the Maenads after old
Orpheus, my curses at foolish questions
and IQ 95 logic like teeth filed down
into daggers, a mouthful of scalpels
that can never bite through the umbilical
cord, that slippery concertina wire, between
me and my father who always thought I
should be a concert pianist, the type of man
who hungers for orchestral swelling, the
simple laws of enchantment and harmony.
And in walks a student who says he wants
to be the next Vonnegut. A flock of white
birds lulling over Lake Monona explode now
into motion as a down draft sends them wheeling,
and this student declares Vonnegut is the greatest
American writer who ever lived. I'm going to
go live it up for ten, maybe fifteen years, then
write books like you've never seen. And my mind
tries to fasten - to the birds who no longer follow
but flounder in stern breezes, to what this B minus
student is stoically saying - but I think only
of my father, a narrative with no point of view,
and how nothing without shape will ever hold
up, suspect to such emptiness.

Woundwort-n. Any of various plants (esp. of the genus Stachys)
which allegedly have healing powers.

Cold radish soup the color of a woodpecker's beak.
Water caught in a steel bucket on a day it rains toads.
Brownish mold growing atop the old corn crib roof.

My grandmother had so many versions of the truth, so many
ways to cure poison ivy, a story behind each that burned
with false fury. She never went to Belize or Madrid,

never studied with hoodoo masters in the Caribbean.
But woundwort she had, by the basket and in little silver
jars of extract, and like cowboy snake-oil, it was the trick

for everything, from sniffles to snakebites to the cold shakes.
She'd stew it up or crush leaves and stalk in her hummingbird
little hands, make a potion magic enough by the power

of her conviction that yes, there is a God, and yes, He
believes in woundwort, the little drum of justice in a world
so sick there's no good cure. But with woundwort enough,

she could end world hunger, raise Gandhi and Mozart
from the grave, ensorcel the nations to leave one another
tenderly. It's too late now, she's gone and the woundwort, too.

As I watch blood bead from the splinter puncture in my thumb,
I wish I had it, that dark medicinal herb, to rub and caress,
to coax my flesh back together again, but I don't have her faith

that everything, given time, heals. I put a Band-Aid on
my thumb and think again of her, as I always do when hurt;
it's a cold truth, that I no longer believe, that I don't have her faith.

Ryan G. Van Cleave