Two Poems

Conversion Narratives

This life extracts some balance
though what we mostly do is run
in one direction till we fall,
then rise, dust ourselves clean
and tear hard as we can back
the way we came. This is how
the stories told in pulpits
and 12-step meetings start,
their finished gloss ignoring
all the scratched-out lines,
the pencil points broken
in revision. It’s the story
Augustine, on the eve of sainthood,
told, its sequel uttered by
every soul redeemed in his wake.
But another story waits
beyond our consent. Imagine
a man telling his tale
of resurrection one night, how
he stepped from the path,
then plunged from grace until
awakening, then redemption
through diet, Jesus or sobriety.
After he’s done, some shake his hand.
There are tears and long hugs.
Then he’s driving home, a glow
rising in him  to answer
the fat moon as he erases
the parts of the story
he will never tell. And when
he turns into his driveway,
the house is a box of fire,
the life he spoke of building
vanished in the soundless fury
of flames. When he sees
his family silhouetted against
the fire he runs to them
and, cursed and blessed, they embrace.
Holding them, sweat-grimed
and hot beneath his fingers,
he knows the day will come when
this will fit the story he tells,
and he hates the mouth that will
say those words, the mouth now
whispering to his daughter,
promising that what is lost
will be gotten again.


Insomnia in Spring

Pay attention to the workings of the soul,
            Marcus Aurielius counsels, one reason
I wish the moon would labor through
            the cloud-web lacing the sky,
bluffing rain. But tonight you can leave
            your jacket inside. All over the city
drivers roll their windows down, turn
            radios a little louder, a combination
that makes a noise restless enough
            to throw the night off balance. Today,
a friend told me that he is the crazy one
            in a poem I’ve read fifty times.
I can see the words on the page even
            while I write this. We both know the poet,
a clam believer in God and language.
            Once I would have said there is nothing
worth believing in. Tonight there is music,
            the fine shuttle of breath. The sky,
endless variations of plant life, some peeping
            upward now, the curious odors rising
from soft mud. The little prayer I whisper
            each morning. There is the body,
sleepless, trembling with a joy that is close
to fear. The more attention we offer
 the world, the larger the soul becomes.
            Today, my daughter was distracted by
the tree’s soft leafing and each new blossom
            and I forgot that her detours marks
opportunities for patience. You have to be
            a little crazy to believe language can
give the world the attention it deserves. But
            you would be crazier not to,
not when the ground is waking
            into sour green odors and plants
rise through the mud they are made in, not when
            our souls are still lush and growing.

—Al Maginnes, Raleigh, NC