Bio Note: In 1976, I moved with my family to Fairbanks, Alaska to teach for a year in the creative writing program at the University of Alaska. I’m still there. I’ve published seven books of poetry, as well as a collection of essays. The Moving Out: Collected Early Poems was published recently by Salmon Poetry.
December: for Spirit
Toward the end of the year--perhaps this is always the case—I'm looking for a sign. The mountains, like a massive wave, rush upon the land. And striking from below the southwest flange, sunlight flames the upper sky. Darkness flows from the east at three in the afternoon. This month, except for bombs and hijacked planes, I'd be in Israel. Is one place better than the next? Like minor stars three snow-machines approach downriver with swift, silent speed. We've trotted to the slough and back. Overdressed, in double-insulated mittens and down pants, I watch you chew the snow, wearing the comfortable hair of a dog. Hot breath fogs my glasses, while you nip a thorny branch whose brittle bract enfolds the rose. In Sixteenth Century Palestine, young Rabbis paced the graveyards of the ancient Torah-tellers, smelt the tar-smell of redemption burning in their templed hearts. They knew, no less than Christians do, this world must be remade. Is it too late? The other night, at twenty-eight below, a green aurora branched across the sky. I watched the sickle moon dip toward the range. Orion bristled overhead, jeweled sword, and golden belt of stars: his state was all the wide and snowy west. Now that the year is almost dead, have I done what I set out to do? How have I changed? At four, the evening star shines through, the southwest rim is still in flames.
Old Jewish Quarter, Prague
“Morgenstern, Abraham I.VII.1869 JANA…”
The names in red hand-printed on beige walls precede their dates (as known) in blocked black ink, a tabernacle of the disappeared, our family name among the thousands here. Transported to the camps, they turned to ash and blew away. Outside, ancestral gravestones scoured by age—a multitude of slabs that pitch at angles and collapse. Layered in dirt, the bones long since decayed, hooded in moss, and Hebrew letters worn. We join a line of patience passing by to view a past we all are moving toward. Does death erase the insults that they bore whose lives are stitched in satin on the sky?
©2021 John Morgan
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell her or him. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is what builds the community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL