Heart of my country—paradox and pearl—
Where cherry trees paste snow against the sky
In spring, where the stone monolith projects
Into the humid, choking nights of summer,
Where autumn burns the leaves, and rain
Drops on the vacant benches by the river,
Where winter brings the Appalachian cold—
Here you receive the kit and the caboodle,
The sweepers who clean up your boulevards,
The Texans and the Oregonians,
A Moslem mosque, a national art museum,
Buildings for bureaucrats, and slums
Within the sight of palaces and parks.

How many casks of wine have emptied here?
How many tons of feces fill your sewers?
How many hansoms, hacks and Cadillacs have run
Between the Mayflower and your seats of power?
How many secrets have you filed away?
How many murders fill your calendar?
How many generals curse your tarnished name?
How many widows weep within your shrines?

Your traffic thickens and coagulates,
Your landscape fills with cheap, depressing homes.
Your streets become less safe to walk at night.
Sociable ladies leave the house with fright
Because your two-bit hoodlums and thugs
Have given some the shake-up of their lives.
A filibuster threatens in the senate,
Civil servants plow through paper piles,
Children gape bored at Lincoln’s stony form,
A tan-skinned teacher leads the “Frêre Jacques,”
The airplanes hover waiting turn to land,
The pigeons indiscreetly line the wires.

Heart of my country, when the cherry trees,
The choking summer nights, the burning leaves,
The anachronistic mid-December warmth
And the long-accustomed mid-December cold
Bring back your infinite variety,
Pierre L’Enfant’s beginning and your climb
Into the center of the world’s dominion,
I hear a Voice above the voice of armies,
Softer than rippling water, full of might,
Higher than by a million monoliths,
Stronger than by a universal fission.
It covers every edifice of pride,
It drowns the meaningless babbling of your sins,
It levels all your knowledge in the dust,
It speaks to you Its deep eternal silence
Through cherry trees, through trees against the sky,
Through the humid, choking nights, the nights of summer,
Through the burning leaves, the burning leaves of autumn,
Through the vacant benches in the winter cold.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


It was an evening at the edge of summer,
And we were standing in the apple grove:
The imbricated branches of the trees
Latticed the ground with shadows, and the sun,
A golden ostensorium in heaven,
Lighted the grass between.

Nothing prepared
Me for your question, no pressure from your hand,
No tender hesitancy in your voice.
A sudden shattering were your four small words,
“Why do birds die?”

Your intonation was so soft, subdued,
So non-protesting, so unanswerable.
Intuitively you knew, a child of three,
I could say nothing.

We were powerless,
You with your question, I with no reply.
A touch from me were violence, so I stood
An unintruding distance, weighted down,
Rooted, not able nor desiring to move:
And you seemed rooted like the silent ferns.

“If I were God,” I thought...
And instantly
A reconciliation gathered up
The fruited globules and the saffron light,
Gathered the question, the question with no answer,
Gathered the father in the grove, the son,
Gathered the poignancy of first-felt death,
Fracture, probing, pitying and loss,
Gathered them up and led us into peace.

We were not given leave to walk away
Until a star came out above the roof.
Then you suggested that we go inside
To eat our supper before time to bed.
How loud the tinny crunch of wheels was
As I pulled you in your wagon down the path!

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Suddenly the wind came in from Shilshole Bay,
Took in its hand a host of rustv leaves
And scraped the quiet shell of afternoon.

Mirroring the mar, my peace cracked
Like an alabaster wall.
The solid premise which it took for base
Had its own isostatic terms to meet
And had to make accommodations not to man
But to the planet’s tilt, the sun’s declivity,
The same Design which turns the wary trout
Into the gulping death of caddis flies.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


How alien they seemed,
My elders with their furrowed skin,
Eyes cataracted,
Veins wan-blue,
Clumped on the back of their legs
Like cross-sections of pomegranates.

They treasured yellowed letters never read,
Pressed ferns in books,
Ate gruel,
Vaguely remembered who they once had been,
Felt kindness but forgot all human names.

Their houses were too hot.
They coughed, mumbled complaints
Against snowfalls
And the high-winded madcaps of winter.

Silence and sameness were their intimates,
Dark clothes their sad adornment.
The years calved off their lives
Like sterile icebergs in a northern sea.

I turn from the mirror.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


What shall I do to fill the sense of void?
The night is heavy like a coverlet
Upon this fevered man who cannot move
His feet, his legs, his hand, his giddy head.
The smell of citronella, Insects’ whir,
The slender assagai against the fence,
The aardvark pawing at the rotting stump,
The eerie sheen of moonlight on the veldt
Press in upon the vanguard of my life.
In the kraal the intermittent cry
Of Lumba’s baby measures out the hours;
Its swift incision cuts the straining ropes
That hold the bastion of my sanity.

Out of my panicked depths the swell brings up
Two lines I learned from Auden on Yeats’ death:
  ‘The provinces of his body revolted
 The squares of his mind were empty.'

Never shall I return to Oregon
Nor see the gulls by Neal-Kah-Nie light,
The moist, clean forms of holly, razor-edged,
The fruit trees on the foothills of Mount Hood.
Even when I was only eight my wish
Was to be buried in a country plot
Near Bethany, Damascus, or Monroe,
Not one well-tended but knee-deep in leaves
Of peeling-barked madroñas in the rain.

Not dying, God, but dying in this place,
Dying where there was never from the first
A sense of home, a sense of knowing love,
A sense of unity with smells, with soil,
With flowers, landscapes, birds, familiar sounds,
A sense of sharing one’s most transient life
With those whose eyes one understood at once.
Here there was always mystery in their eyes,
Never the light for me but vacant stares
Looking through me as if diaphanous
And what transfixed them were outside of me,
As if I were an interference poised
Between them and their nameless numina.

Until the precipice of this last hour
I believed that You would order life for me
To end the way that You had ordered-five
To follow four or be the half of ten.
I would go home. I moved by that sole hope.
Whether to live or die I would go home.

I will not go. The end is destined here.
Thoughts of all man-made consolations, God,
Increase my pain. There now is no pretense.
I go out to this death with no defense.
Lumba’s baby cries my requiem,
My final terror in an ochre land.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Julia Todd is eighty-eight,
Widowed, childless, alone.
Her house is white and made of wood;
It has a fence of river-stone.

Her lawns are lime-green cool and wide,
Her hedges high with porticoes.
Suet skewered on a string
Hangs from pear and apple boughs.

Of all the flowers in the town
Hers are far the loveliest;
Of all the eaves from which to choose
The swallows fly to hers for rest.

Bowed and rounded like an arch,
Her head the level of her thighs,
She feebly picks the dandelions
That do not miss her failing eyes.

Fixated by the ground, she shuns
The upward glance to spire, to sky.
To get acquainted with the earth
By no means would she have to die.

But when she does, at any hour,
Her final living wish will be
To press her lips against the soil
In one enfeebled ecstasy.

Then I will cease to trim the hedge,
To mow the grass, to string the suet:
Without her scuffling on the path
I would not have the heart to do it.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Though we all had to come into this life
By a conception unimmaculate,
And grow as foeti at the ordained rate,
And suck the teat or rubber substitute,
And multiply and bloom till our pubescence
And pass through middle age into senescence,
We differentiated too.

  I am American, you Algerian.
  She’s from Ceylon, and he’s from Paraguay.
  My father was a watchman, yours a priest,
  His a ventriloquist, hers a thief.
  And I became a poet, you a clerk,
  He a chemist, she an acrobat.
  Time, instead of equalizing us,
  Brings out our individuality.

Swedenborg said the differences persist.
There is a sociology in heaven, too,
And certainly one in hell.
Think of high-hatted spirits snubbing us,
Or introverted loners pouting on their clouds,
Melodramatic children bodiless
Nagging their parents for ambrosia,
Or kind old ladies without flesh or bone
Knitting Platonic sweaters in the air.
Perhaps we’ll find things most familiar there.
And though we have to die a common death,
That’s no more of a terminus than being born.
As the commuters at Grand Central file out
And fan into ten thousand different spheres,
I think that we shall find eternal amplitude.

Divine surprise may be there’s no surprise.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.