Dialogues with Angels

Day 5 of illustrating/blogging one poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “Back in the Colonies” section). Spacing doesn’t work exactly the way I want it to in WordPress, so some of that is lost (grrrr). My road-idea illustrations are frustrating me in their sketchiness, so here is an even sketchier road-idea illustration (GRRRRR). This poem came out fairly complete already one night/morning as the writing demon was upon me, but now reminds me of an old favorite. So I’ll include both.

“Dialogue with an Angel”

Years ago, in the darkness of my youth,
a brush-fire destroyed everything I owned.
The flames licked my home hollow.
At first, for the moment that the hollowness felt clean,
I thought they were my sisters.
Awakening from that moment
of false beauty was the hardest part.
I ran away and rebuilt.

But another disaster followed
swiftly on the last.
This time it was a tornado,
roaring from the sick, green sky
like a train
like a lion
and like an angel of some terrible judgment.
I could not look the angel in the eye and,
knowing my home would again soon be hollow, left
to make anew a better life.

The caravans I followed seemed friendly enough,
until they disappeared one night
as the snows began to fall
and the wind began to rip
at the fabric of all things.
At last, I was alone.
It might be peaceful to die like this,
I thought, and lay down to sleep.
A pack of wild dogs encircled me then,
barking their
“Now-now, now-now, now-now”

Then, I knew it was really time to leave—
a greater leaving
than I could yet imagine.
“Go with God,”
my blanket-holding brain suggested,
bullied down that plank by pranksters, programmed ecstasy, and force of need.
And I did, the ghosts of the brush-fire sisters still licking my skin.
Sometimes, at night, their beautiful faces flash back at me,
with the shock, the stab, and the jolt
of realizing the false friendship of their warmth.
“Get on,” says the conductor.
“Stay back,” says the lion-tamer.
“Now be still,” says the angel,
as the world I left already ashen, burns.

In my new life, I am not a brush-fire victim.
You are not my beautiful sisters,
sipping air and letting slip your torn stockings of combustion.
The storms that grow stronger as the climate grows weirder
are not trains we can ride into the city
are not lions we can watch roaming from the car
are not angels of some terrible judgment.

“Don’t be so sure,” says the angel,
salting a hole in the sky with his tears,
not of remorse, guilt, or shame,
but of anger.
The tide rises,
the tides rise,
the rising tides sighed and sighed.
“Why,” I ask the silence where the angel last stood,
“am I being still?”


This lovely image seems to be from Shoestring Press’s recent Little Dutch Books edition, but I don’t see an artist credit…

A Man and an Angel, studies for a poem

By Toon Tellegen, trans. from the Dutch by  Judith Wilkinson

A man said:
I can’t live
and he lived long and meticulously

then he stood still and said:
but I can’t love
and he loved women and peace
and unspoken shyness

and an angel fought with him –
I can’t fight, said the man
and he fought like a tiger, like a hare,
and like a bag of bones

the sun went down
and still they fought on,
the man and the angel,
and the man said,
with a melancholy note in his voice:
now I know,
I can’t lose.

Believe me, said an angel, I will save you.
No, said a man, I don’t believe you.
You have to believe me, said the angel

and he drove away the ambition of the man
and his painful omniscience,
gave him peace
and large quantities of a rare,
resilient happiness, such as had never been described.

Do you believe me now, the angel asked
and he looked at the man with unparalleled love
and tenderness
and the man whispered: I don’t believe you.

A man searched for his conscience
and an angel saw him and asked:
might this be it?
showed him a large and orthodox conscience

that is yours, said the man,
but the angel shook his head:
we don’t have a conscience,
we are too light,
we would fall,
we would lose from everyone,

and with a nonchalant gesture
he struck the man down and dragged him away

and the man felt ashamed.

In the end,
if we just wait long enough,
if we have seen beauty change shape
and justice bend over backwards,
if we have cherished hope,
if we believe we have believed in something true
and feel we have loved until we withered
and could not go on,
so help us our self-knowledge –
in the end,
out of everything that was
and could have been and should have been
in heaven as on earth
there only remains
a man fighting with an angel,
night falls
and the angel strikes him down.