G. C. Waldrep

Contributor Biography

G.C. Waldrep is the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently feast gently (Tupelo, 2018), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and The Earliest Witnesses (Tupelo/Carcanet, 2021). Waldrep’s poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Paris Review, Ploughshares, New England Review, Yale Review, Colorado Review, The Nation, Harper’s, New American Writing, Conjunctions, and many other journals in the USA and abroad, as well as in the Best American Poetry anthology series and the 2nd edition of Norton’s Postmodern American Poetry. With Ilya Kaminsky he co-edited Homage to Paul Celan (Marick, 2011) and with Joshua Corey he co-edited The Arcadia Project: 

North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta, 2012). Waldrep’s work has received prizes from the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets as well as the Colorado Prize, the Dorset Prize, the Campbell Corner Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative American Writing, and a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature. From 2007 to 2018 he served as Editor-at-Large for The Kenyon Review, and from 2011 to 2021 he was editor of the journal West Branch. Waldrep lives in Lewisburg, Pa., where he teaches at Bucknell University. In 2021 he was a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge.

A LICHEN AS THE SIXTH WOUND OF CHRIST

You are round & fleshy as you efface the orange blaze

on the sycamore bole. O Parmelia you are

everywhere & you grow as slowly as you respirate.

You inscribe almost everything with the pale

celadon of your script. In the broad heat of the day

 

I am the only moving thing, I wear a stone

for breath (Brenda Hillman observes it is common

not to want to fail an experience). In my dream

I was entrusted with the care of six newborn lambs.

I fed them the wrong things & they died, violently,

 

one by one. One vomited its own slick guts;

I drew the severed limbs of another from the blood-

& shit-strewn straw. I count my own missing organs

again. O lichen you are like a medieval lepers’

hospital long fallen into ruin. You make no music—

or, you make the least audible music. You are dead

at your center the way music dies when we bind it

too closely to our limbs, our imperfections.

So be a wound, a dressing, some riven hive. I pause

at each trunk, each boulder. I think on your suffering

which precedes our suffering. Your equal love

for light & dark, for sun & pain. Bind the bleeding

ark, its bratticed hemorrhage. Oh small life

in your hunger I will never know you as you

are known. You do not burn easily. Should I then

have knelt (the captains stoop, are duly photographed;

they are enormous sacks of meat, smeared with dew).

Or, you are fire’s living shadow. It is easy to believe

the wandering Israelites made victuals of you,

following the example of the angels. Close your eyes

now, on the new feast. Unlike Thomas I take you

up on your offer. I bear the feel of your parted flesh

in my members, penumbra’s raw gutter & flare.

You are the first to challenge our waymarks, our

most legible traces. You never serve man as a mirror

no matter how long we gaze. You are the ripe air’s

viscid lymph, you are water’s scar, you draw least

from the earth. You are the ring on fire’s finger

that fire imagines. I am no longer frightened by anything

except my inability to love you more perfectly.




 

THE AUTHENTIC GALLERIES

Begin again. Begin with the wound.

The wound begins with you,

                          it moves before you

into the dapple, the blueberry glade

             and rhododendron

through which the man-trail cuts.

We are not severed. That

               is the most important thing.

The oldest bark

blackened from long-ago fires.

I could walk forever, &

     never see your face.

                 (I always see Your face.)

—beneath the supplicant pines.

Bear softly & with courage,

amateur.           They have destroyed

the ledgers of our youths.

Either you or You, the lightning

         or the earth that draws it.

Were I quarry would I flee.

                   The mountain’s brow

thick with gun-light, secreted.

“I am so happy,” Hopkins repeated

to himself, on his Dublin deathbed.

I’m watching a drug deal

high on the mountain,

             by the disused fire tower

strung with razor-wire.

We will never be more frightened

                        than we are now,

is one way to describe Christ.

Our fear is inexpressibly beautiful.

Like a geode it must be cracked open.

     Like a geode its crystals

grow inward,

                   towards a natural limit.

You may take a piece, feel it

moving through you,

                             its infant’s cry

meticulous, thrice-gratified, strong.

[MECHTHILD SAYS GOD IS A BELL]

Mechthild says God is a bell:

she blushes: a little

shower falls onto the bean

plants rooted in moist loam:

a net leads upwards,

we can climb if if we like:

we can tighten

the constellation:

asceticism is one form

this tightening might take:

if it’s a question

of taking: of asserting

possession: I take the bean

blossoms into my hand:

now they’re implicated

in the fable:

I teach them about battles,

Algiers, Antietam, Warsaw:

what you can’t

name in the clouds

is not the cloud itself

(Mechthild might have said):

because bride:

because even the streets

decked out in scarlet rags:

violets stretched across

the nave of her best thought:

relinquished,

she said: beneath

the desolation (she said)

of the missing: the non-

decaying absence:

what cavitates

inside the sorrows of birds,

about which we know

next to nothing:

a motif, say, by Heinrich

Isaac, subfusc smudge

against damask, otherwise

left to its single prayer:

its orphan-recital

the sleepers know by heart:

GERTRUDE SUITE

GERTRUDE OF HELFTA ON SUFFERING


 

Semantic, in the way that interruption is semantic.

Memory strikes at it.

To burn or to cleanse.

Choice says, take me there, sister. Choice insists.

*

It is not a door, though it knows the word door.

Door, it says.

Door door door door. If only it were that simple.

 

*

 

An allusion, as to some other form of listening.

 

Or, it is a way of making lists,

viz. letters, numbers, the planets, the five wounds.

 

*

 

It asks, whatever can “authenticity” really mean.

GERTRUDE OF HELFTA AT THE NEEDLE

 

Run into what the field prays,

its golden sequence.

Marriage lapses like this.

A haunting

towards which

small boats hurl their casks.

A median.

Architectured smartly.

What privilege we have sewn.


 

GERTRUDE OF HELFTA ON EPISTEMOLOGY

 

That light. We could see by it.

If it were closer.

If we were closer.

The roses only get in the way.


 

GERTRUDE OF HELTA ON PHOTOGRAPHY

 

But we had not arrived.

We were in the act of arriving.

The light accommodated us.

Later, regret.

It is so soft. You

can touch it with your hands.


 

GERTRUDE OF HELFTA ON THE ATONEMENT

 

A mirror for sorrows. In that, a tool.

Events are what happened.

How do you know?

Well, the stain. The correspondence.

But chiefly the correspondence.

Whether we call it a noun or a mote.

& OTHER DIFFICULTIES ASSOCIATED
WITH THE BOOK OF JOB

 

I disassembled the myth, I gathered the pieces of wood

from beneath the gilded throne. Lots of singing

in the laced boughs of syntax, from which the webs dropped.

It was the feast of disclosure, or soon after.

My friend had discovered the body as one of three

discrete, autonomous lives, around which a chain flexed

& smoked. Thus are we induced into the good, the problem

of the good & what it signifies. Is not repetition

the slowest of all arts, the watchmaker’s precision,

the scabbed hand of the builder of lutes, whose palm I shook.

I don’t wish to imply I was in pain, though I was.

In the cistern, a nub of polar light. I reached for it

also. Thus the evasion of speech cavitates,

it rustles in the dark gall beyond the culvert, where the field

begins to find itself, to draw into itself, as a form of attention.

And yet the field, too, is a myth, a whipstitched cloth.

I hurl the pieces into its pall, I take their traces

into my own flesh as they leave my grasp, little emperors.

ON THE RECENTLY RE-INSTITUTED MEMORIAL
OF OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM

 

Thy breath is beautiful upon the hills.

       In Thine eyes is strength.

I reach out my hand to touch the bright

razor wire around the fire tower.

It flashes like your teeth,

plucked & settled in their monstrance.

That is what faith is like,

                        one’s own tongue

against someone else’s teeth.

Uncountable, each perfectly molded.

The drug deal I’ve been observing

                                        is concluded.

The young men have driven away.

What I thought was a black dog

        curled at one’s feet

was a backpack with a gun in it.

Sing, razor wire in the cross-thermal.

Sing, illusion of a private faith.

You can see the world from here.

                It is perfect in every respect.

Now, climb down. I am watching.

MUCHELNEY ABBEY

The great apsed end, a fossil now, presided over by mistletoe.

 

Green globes hanging in the bare trees like the unlight faith flickers toward.

 

The curve of it, remembering. I stand behind a wire & watch.

Author's Note:

“A Lichen as the Sixth Wound of Christ” and “& Other Difficulties Associated with the Book of Job” were previously published in North American Review.

“The Authentic Galleries", “[Mechthild Says God Is a Bell]” and “Gertrude Suite” were previously published in Plume.

“On the Recently Re-established Memorial of Our Lady of Walsingham" was previously published in America.

D. M. Reyes

Contributor Biography

D. M. Reyes teaches Literature and Creative Writing at the Ateneo de Manila University. Promising Lights, his first book of poems, was published in 1999. He has also written various articles on aspects of globalization, cultural studies, folklore, the development of fiction, a bibliographic catalogue of Filipino women writers, and monographs on the visual arts. As visiting professor, he also taught at Universitas Sanata Dharma and Chulalongkorn University.

St. John XXIII

A short-lived prince they chose, 
Doltish grandfather whom everyone
Knew would not linger.

A lull, their restless hearts 
Wanted from arduous decades
Of droned-out vespers.
For beyond that smile,
His ripe years now promise them
Such prompt reign.

 

Among the cedars they pray 
For tranquil years, weary 
With history’s sporadic tussles—
Thick, throttling smoke of wildfire 
Wars yet lifted, the broken 
Bones of fallen soldiers barely 
Crumbled underfoot.

Yet what parable from the eternal
City haunts his panting heart? 
For, swiftly, he yearns to gather
The world’s wrangling pilgrims.

From his moonless dreams 
Rise rival cenacles.
But, like a faint canticle,
The hymn that rings in his ears 
Calms his troubled fists.
With legion creeds cast aside,
Under one vast and gilded
Chamber, the flame bids
Him to draw them, 
Allowing many staves
Of praise.

Behind his back, church 
Minions sneer, forgetting 
How this taunted clown 
Once stood up 
To Charles de Gaulle.
For now, they’re disposed 
To see him throw
Away the household’s 
Gold to tender banquets, 
Mumble pompous speeches, 
And give God’s frowning scholars 
A taste of prime moscato,
As they feign to laud each other.

What gospel bids this old man
To have the thick doors
Thrown wide open?
His yawning servants mutely 
Heed, stunned to find
They could never shut 
The heaving ark again.

Calming the shivering throng
Against the cold night,
Angelo Roncalli made 
God’s love simple, saying 
That even the moon had 
Risen to herald 
The hour of unmistakable
Turning.

 

He bid the roused night’s  
Faithful to take Christ 
Back to the arms 
Of their wide-eyed children.
“Tell them,” he said, “tell them 
That this old man sends 
His embrace.”

Some years later,
They left him dying,
Stout against the final canker— 
That blunt blade slicing
His guts. He merely groaned,
Acknowledging the final hour.

“The time is near,” he said
His voice hardly breaking, 
Addressing his Master. 
“For every pain, I come 
To meet you closer.”

He gazed upon the unseen 
As irrefutable presence, 
Welcoming the darkness
Even as his cities and the world
Raged, the Easter flame he
Left now let ablaze, a radiant fire 
Gone wild, refining 
All things. 

 

Mandatum

Maundy—
uncommon adjective
marking the year’s
one peculiar Thursday.

The touchscreen dictionary
blinks a throwback 
to the Latin mandatum,
word familiar to Caesar’s 
denizens, asserting 
a firm commandment.

Maundy Thursday
and, with spring blighted,
the old continent grieves. 
In Brussels, pulverized concrete 
and splintered glass 
rain upon a shell-shocked airport,
grim handiwork 
of a hostile brotherhood 
whose resentments raid 
city by blasted city, 
shattering an old order.

In the bureau where I work,
the same insidious tactics hold—
the need to trounce the system,
shrugging off leaders
while my bruised dignity asserts:
Turn away; do better.

This mandate we thresh 
out on a Thursday evening
was once rendered
in homespun terms of tenderness—
fish drawn from the lake
broiled with lemon, 
olives, and fragrant spices, 
hard bread circling in pieces
and good, aged wine, 
poured sparingly
for each brother.

What mandate
does the heart uphold, 
bowing before a chamber,
certain that both shadow
and transposed presence 
still linger there?

Love is provision that keeps,
served in good manner
or that which nags us still— 
kiss of the summer wind
blowing or the longing 
for a gaze withheld, never 
once returned.

Or it might even be
what we hold back, anxious 
to bring to this supper,
citing all the lame excuses—
the need to rush, 
a pursuit of promises, 
only to fulfil them 
elsewhere.

Past evening rite and vigil, 
the nuns extinguish 
the sanctuary’s flame.
A simple meal is served;
the cheerful handmaidens disperse,
summoning both kin and strangers.

Mandate or table of gracious
meal, the heart’s faltering beat 
assumes new form here, 
against the world’s quibble 
and raging anger 
or death’s gravely 
dimming hour.

Good Friday, 2000

sa isang cahoy dongmoclay
liig niya,y, tinalian
nagbicti,t, nagpacamatay

 

—Mahal na Passion

As if this tree’s flowers were crushed,
a dark sap stains the night.
Beneath a crown of red buds,
death becomes the day’s withered fruit.

A gnarled branch yearns westwards
where star lights gather to a cross,
bearing your weight.

Beyond this tree, the road
rises to a place of bones.
And the night allows itself
a sorrow, navel of the burned day.

Shadows appear
and are welcome, at last.

Flesh has been allowed
to break into its sum of wounds,
spoor of blood oozing, thorns
and a crown of grass flowers,
his quivering bead of tears.

Doubt’s deed hammers his hands
and the broken instep of his feet
without reprieve.
Rain pours into his heart’s
chambers, absolving your need.

Hanging on this tree,
you betray the lure of silver,
begging of the night its bough
of kindness—to declare the sum
of your terrible weight.

 

Cocoon

sa sandaigdigang tauo,
pagca buhay na totoo,
Poon cong si Jesu Christo

 

—Mahal na Passion

Here is redemption’s spell:
brown pupa hanging,
furry as the tamarind pod.
Gently, it folds
the sleeping creature’s wings.

In saffron blooms and red,
the lilies glide on the pond.
The summer’s flame curls
the tree’s leaves—
olive-green turning
deep into the shadow,
condensing into a shroud.

And the caterpillar’s crawl
to self-imposed slumber
declares the infallibility
of its rebirth:

Break away from gravity’s pull,
and let the body sprout wings,
dance to the monsoon’s temper,
flap left into lightness,
right into radiance,
shining in your flight.

In the flaming eve
of April, Christ sleeps
in the caterpillar’s chamber.
And the beasts of the ark
wait, the mystery quivering
in their dark, repentant heart—

Joy of the dawn rising
with red, redeeming wings:
Christ, the monarch
butterfly.