An Alphabet

Air, element we take inside and send back altered,
Be lucid: show us the swift’s passage in twilight, the earliest stars;
Calm the undervoice that yammers what is the point?

Dishevel our hair, carry away our hats and umbrellas.
Even as you build clouds taller than mountains,
Favor us with the lightning’s power, the fog’s invisibility cloak.

Grant us this breath and another, grant us tomorrow.
Hold us closely, lest we fly apart as we would in space;
Incline your full weight so that we feel you hold us
Just as you hold the dew before nightfall, the cloud before rain;
Kiss us as we wish a lover to kiss us, without forethought or purpose.

Light into the treetops, tear the resistant leaves away;
Measure us, who crush them to mulch, by our own season.

Not as entire emptiness, but emptiness dreaming of form
Offer yourself to our senses, always some trace of odor
Pervading the wind: woodsmoke, magnolia, skunk.

Querulous, we cling to absolutes; loosen them, teach us
Respect for illusion, as the oasis in blinding
Sunlight dissolves, on closer approach, into waves of heat.

Temper our justice with mercy, as when violent storms
Unhasp the doors of the house but forbear to raze it.

Veil our desire in cirrus, that no one may see its end.
Wash earth of its slag, earth’s oceans of bilge and oil.

X, that we cannot solve for, inscribe on the sailor’s wind rose.
Yield, in your chance distribution of rain, our sustenance,
Zealous in nothing but circulation, your gratuitous law.

Paul Breslin is professor of English emeritus at Northwestern University.
 
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