Ars Poetica


Revive me now
with anything low-tech, homemade,
handwoven from living fibers,
written with a fountain pen.

Show me lacquered Chinese red
of a box with three lucky coins in it,
thumbed turquoise of Tibetan
prayer beads hidden from soldiers—
even the powder-blue, tragic, compromised star,
six-pointed on a field of white,
flying over a tank that grinds down on Bethlehem.

Lift my eyes to the disk of the midday sun
seen through clouds of fine particulate matter
where our towers stood.

Slow me down for once in my life
to the gait of a camel crossing from
          Peshawar to Khandahar
with bags of rice strapped to its saddle,
while the camel driver cranes up
over his shoulder at the
vapor trails of a B52.

Show me struck flint of the North Star,
big splayed kite-frame of the Southern Cross,
and ask me to imagine how they look
from the Southern hemisphere—
while the beggar-man with his load of kindling
crosses the moon people see from China.

Write your words out Yankee-plain and iconic
as the Roman numerals
printed on the face of the clock
that kept time in my mother’s kitchen.
Maybe that hand-wound pulse
will stop me thinking about
the NASDAQ, smiley faces, CEOs,
television, and Global Positioning Systems

guiding democracy bombs
into wars where people on the ground
shelter in tarpaper
shacks under roofs of corrugated tin,
pick their way maimed through mine-fields
or go from check point to check point
trying to reach their olive groves.

I too love the primary colors of the flag—
its classic red and white stripes,
its machine-sewn stars
spangled over a field of blue
breezing in the September sky
this day of days.

But I’ve had it with “God Bless America.”
Let blessings fall wherever there is need for them.
My country, it’s not just
‘tis of thee I sing.

When the “inevitable clash
of civilizations” crowd gets cranked up,
help me contemplate harmony.
Play me the world’s music.
Let human fingers pluck the strings of
instruments fashioned from living forests.

Speak to me
in the wavery melismas of the call to prayer
that a billion people hear
this morning from a minaret before dawn,

while I feel in my bones
the bronze reverberations
of a bell that memorializes all we have lost.


© 2008 Richard Tillinghast, All Rights Reserved