9-1 poem

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A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

9.1 (Winter 2009)





Fault Line Sonnets

Michael H. Lythgoe

Lt. Col. Lythgoe (USAF, Retired) composed the following sonnet sequence during the summer of 2008, when (as becomes evident in Sonnet # 2) the Olympics were in progress in Beijing. Yet the Games, far from being a subject or a pretext for the sequence, appear rather to merge into a whirl of human experience that leads, at last, back to the poet’s most intimate memories of childhood. Though we may create a stage of staggering physical proportions and endowed with stunning visual effects witnessed via satellite all around the planet, the profoundest miracles remain unrehearsed and even—by many—unnoticed. The human being at his boldest and most ambitious is no more than a loud child, much in need of parental understanding; and perhaps the child, on the paradox’s other side (or a man who has recovered the vision of a child), can take the world’s true measure more accurately than a head of state or network producer.

The final poem, “Night Nurse”, was conceived as the poet’s wife was enduring the relatively safe but involved procedure of knee-replacement surgery. Not that occasion in itself, but the sustained contact with a hospital, creates a liminal space where the transit from this world to the next is plainly just a short step through a gauzy veil.


Sonnet # 1

Some say my fault is guilt, some wantonnesss;

Some say grace is innocent, holy talk;

Both grace and fault are loved of more and less;

God-made fault-lines grace that on which we walk.

As on the map of a cartographer,

The straightest line is best for navigator.

So how do seekers find in art a dream,

Or hope, translated from land of broken seams?

How many faults might a mullah betray,

If like a pilgrim could his prayer translate?

So many explorers might lose their way

Unless the light of Allah show no hate.

But fault lines are real & our world can break;

Yet grace not guilt sees what missteps create.



Sonnet # 2

The gymnast tumbles in grace, but mis-steps out

Of bounds in her routine, or fails to stick

Her landing as she flips off uneven bar.

The soccer ball misses the goal, goes out.

A sister misses her serve, defaults.

In Beijing 2008 drummers roar

In unison; China’s Bird’s Nest is thick

With symbols, contrasts, art; harmony sports

Highs & lows, loud & soft, the dark & light.

Tall basketball player walks with small child;

Two heroes: 1 pop star, 1 survivor

Who rescued class mates in an earth quake.

The Olympic flame—troubled, well-traveled—

Soared, circled, high-burn history to make.


Sonnet # 3

A circling flame lights history.

I light a candle in blue glass;

Virgin & Child in an icon, holy.

Coins drop. The candle burns for my mother.

I pray before the statue of Mary.

I see my mother drying me after

My bath as a boy. We walked to church.

Christ as Sacred Heart looms as statue

Over the blue votive. My father’s heart

Was large & open, too. Like the statue.

He endured one open-heart surgery

Plus a by-pass. At Mass, I felt my heart:

St. Joseph Missal like I used to carry—

Black—alone in pew, waiting with angels.


Night Nurse

(for Louise)

     She appeared before you with white hair. 

An apparition? You feared her first as you peered 

In darkness, saw a strange but kind face: new night nurse. 

She learned you were Catholic. She told an Irish 

Nun at the local parish. Sister Bernadette came 

The next day. She brought Holy Communion. 

               Today I found her Church in Augusta, 

                  On Telfair: Most Holy Trinity— 

     Just past the Greek Orthodox Church.

     The priest saying Mass at midday preached

     To honor the feast of St. Anthony of Padua.

     He said we had trivialized the great Doctor

                  Of the Church–turned his reputation 

Into that of a housekeeper, finder of lost objects. 

St. Anthony knew St. Francis, followed the Franciscan Way; 

Acted to remove the Debtors’ Prison from Padua. 

Franciscans still give out St. Anthony’s Bread; They feed 

The poor. To be a witness to our faith, said the priest 

With white hair and white beard, learn how the saints 

Witnessed their Faith. At the end of Mass I saw Sister 

     Bernadette. She was speaking with a family. 

     She looked my way with a big smile. I waved.

     After Mass a dozen people stayed 

To pray the Rosary. I prayed The Sorrowful Mysteries. 

Outside, a man—hurt in a car accident—asked for help 

Getting home. We are helped counting all our bones 

By the psalms, so someone else will not be alone.