Rod Jellema


Washington streets these winter nights are cats,
dozing, one eye half open, watching for storms
while we citizens, deep in the certainty that lightning
never strikes until spring,  are asleep.
But it strikes.  It ripped into my dream one night
not as a jagged white spear but as sound,
a shriek as through homespun worsted,
shearing through a candle-lit room at the rear
of some foreign tailor shop, hunchbacked,
that I was peering into in my sleep.
That was a good year for making poems.

This stranger that wakes me as winter lightning
has other guises. It first came as the tall
and terrible angel who said to the child I was,
fear not. Twice in the decades after that, it threatened 
chaos and death to what I tried to hold onto.
But now, an old man startled by late-in-life love,
I close my eyes to find it lighting up the soft dark
of this new millennium's dance of galaxies,
each one new, each a spark in a cat's eye nebula,
each spark tight with millions of spinning worlds.
This is a good year to rest, to be still.

Down the pre-dawn road that drops west from his house
to his writing shack, we'd have seen very little,
so only imagine this poet squared off at his desk,
nudging his pencil to catch the curves of the earth’s lines
darkly falling away while we were hanging onto
the arcs of our own little sleeps. As one by one
the lights of barns flicked on all along the valley,
the yellow circle of his lamplight, near the old pump,
must have spread, faded to white, and then snapped off,

and it's seven now and we are up.  We watch
from the kitchen window.  His thermos,
a blue-flame flash, swings as he unbends
lightly toward eastern light, growing back his size.
He swaggers a little like a smithy who's forged
and polished the perfect hinge, who wears sparks
newly dead that his clothes now remember as smoke. 
Full height now, he vaguely returns our waves,

but mostly he slows his step to note how the plants
that Sue had set out in April are beginning
to ignite tomatoes, green turning pink, and that Sheba
barked once and is running to meet him halfway.


Dimming down, their wicks sputtering low,
how eager the eyes of the octogenarians
to crack open the layer of tissue
thickening over a printed page or over
a painted landscape, how they wish
to brush aside slight snows
out the frosted window,
to dab color into fading faces,
and like Milton to stare
with  clean recognition
into worlds they may never yet have seen.

for Tom Harper

Rod Jellema, long associated with the University of Maryland and with the Writer's Center (Bethesda, MD), won the Towson University Prize for Literature with his last book of poems, A Slender Grace. His Incarnality: The Collected Poems, with a CD of his readings of many of them, is scheduled for publication on October 1, 2010.



Current Issue
Contributors' Notes

Email this poem Printer friendly page

A CLOSER LOOK: Eleanor Wilner

Liz Abrams-Morley reviews

Gabor Barabas

Alice Baumgartner

Bruce Bennett

Kristin Berkey-Abbott

Christie Bingham

Judith Bowles

Laura M. Dixon

Michael Fogarty

Martin Galvin

Rod Jellema

Ann Knox

Judy Kronenfeld

Heller Landecker

W.F. Lantry

Michael Lauchlan

Merrill Leffler

Miriam Levine

Lyn Lifshin

Helen Losse

David McAleavey

Kathleen M. McCann

Louis McKee

George Moore

Megan M. Muthupandiyan

Scott Owens

Beth Paulson

Patric Pepper

Roger Pfingston

Oliver Rice

Lisa Rosinsky

Laura Sobbott Ross

David Salner

J.D. Smith

Barry Spacks

George Stratigakis

Anne Harding Woodworth

Andrea Wyatt















Last Updated: Feb 22, 2020 - 12:30:13 PM

Copyright 2005 - 2020 Cook Communication.