Katherine Barrett Swett
Art by Ajit Chauhan
Canzone: Morning Light
With longer nights, I’m up before the light,
a stack of books through which I make my way,
the sky becoming pink with morning light.
I’m searching through the words for guiding light;
these writers all may worship different gods,
but all write words to help them see the light.
They grab at life with serious delight.
For Yusef all creation is a temple.
For Herbert words are windows in a temple.
For Lao Tzu the ten thousand things hold light.
Anger preoccupies the Desert Fathers.
Can I, a woman, learn from ancient fathers?
Three of the books I read were once my father’s.
I see him reading them in morning light
and meditating on the Desert Fathers.
It’s sad there are no marginalia, Father.
These books of yours remain the only way
to learn from you what you learned from the fathers.
You tried controlling anger like the fathers.
And did their words help you forgive your god?
You didn’t talk much to us of your god
or of your guilt for your dead brother, Father.
When I feel grief burning inside my temples,
like you, I read. This month, it’s Herbert’s Temple.
You gave me this edition of The Temple.
I read his “Virtue” at your service, Father.
Sweet days, sweet music, roses were the temple,
not that high church Episcopalian temple.
Your spirit and the words were all the light
that flowed through every corner of the temple.
A tall clerestory window in my temple,
but now I have to find another way.
because you and my daughter went away.
I read the Tao Te Ching and Herbert’s Temple,
but also “Talking Dirty to the Gods”
to open up my mind to other gods.
And maybe “Talking Dirty to the Gods”
would be a heresy in certain temples,
but not to ancient goddesses and gods
who worshipped human bodies like a god’s.
For God is not a single God the Father.
For Yusef finds an insect is a god,
and women’s bodies lead us to the gods
and awful wounds can open up the light.
In atoms men unleashed destructive light
and gave themselves the power of the gods.
How much does all our written knowledge weigh?
Did words ever show anyone the way?
The Tao Te Ching is The Book of the Way,
a path for living, absent of the gods.
It offers me a door from Western ways
too focused on no God or on God’s ways.
Yes, earth and human bodies are a temple,
and reading Komunyakaa is a way,
the Desert Fathers, Herbert are a way
to bring me closer to you, long dead Father.
To hold a book and read the words you, Father,
once read. Lao Tzu: Keep to the female way
but know the male; the heavy is the root of light.
Herbert: What is that supreme delight? Light.
I’m sitting now, alone, in mid-day light.
I should stand up and start to make my way
into the day, to care for household gods.
For every place I touch becomes a temple.
My female body knows more than my fathers.
Clouds streaked with pink in sunset glow drift
as winter sounds of cawing crows drift.
It’s hard to leave the blankets every day
while wind is sculpting walls of icy snow drifts.
Playing Bach inventions in slant sun,
my mind wanders; scales and arpeggios drift.
Somewhere it’s summer; wild fires rage
and loud rock from my neighbor’s stereo drifts.
I’m hiking and writing a poem in my head
Deep in the trees a winter-grey doe drifts.
Your white shirt shines out on the laundry line;
meanwhile our continent below drifts.
A shadow follows me though you are gone.
Where you once sat the bars of window drift.
Stuck at home for months and months,
we think too much and watch each woe drift.
Chicadees at the feeder come and go.
Whatever Katherine thinks she knows drifts.
In the Pandemic
Looking back what will have been the best and worst in the pandemic?
Will something even worse have been rehearsed in the pandemic?
The constant sirens in the city streets,
and then the silence of the thousands hearsed in the pandemic.
Dying alone with family only on
an i-phone screen, an unimaginable first in the pandemic.
Those who survived intensive care to come
back home remember those, all those, who nursed in the pandemic.
The mandate to wear masks and stay apart
made some types feel that they had been coerced in the pandemic.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor—
the centuries of failed ideals have burst in the pandemic.
Despite so many signs our system does
not work, might injustices now be reversed in the pandemic?
The problems so much larger than one voice,
A thousand poets, including Katherine, versed in the pandemic.