Poem of the Week, by Suzanne Cleary

Yesterday I wrapped gifts and hit Play over and over on a youtube recording of my niece’s choral group singing a capella. I clapped for a six year old friend who had been instructed by his piano teacher to play Jingle Bells (for someone besides his parents) in preparation for his recital today. I read this poem and dug out my old tape –yes, tape– of the Messiah so I could listen to it, but I had nothing to listen to it on, so I youtubed it instead. Then I read this poem and was, for no reason that makes sense, transported back to 8th grade All-County choir, where I stood on the back riser (always the tall girl) of an unfamiliar bleacher in an unfamiliar school, practicing Amazing Grace over and over with no one I knew, the smell of May sun and spring wind and cotton and empty-school-on-a-weekend rising all around us.

– Suzanne Cleary

My husband and his first wife once sang Handel’s Messiah
at Carnegie Hall, with 300 others who also had read
the ad for the sing-along, and this is why I know
the word glory is not sung by the chorus,
although that is what we hear.
In fact, the choir sings glaw-dee, glaw-dee
while it seems that glory unfurls there, like glory itself.
My husband sings for me. My husband tells me they practiced
for an hour, led by a short man with glasses,
a man who made them sing glory, twice, so they could hear it
fold back upon itself, swallow itself
in so many mouths, in the grand hall.
Then he taught them glaw-dee, a distortion that creates the right effect,
like Michelangelo distorting the arms of both God and Adam
so their fingertips can touch.
My husband and his first wife and 300 others performed
at 5 o’clock, the Saturday before Christmas,
for a small audience of their own heavy coats,
for a few ushers arrived early, leaning on lobby doors.
But mostly they sang for themselves,
for it is a joy to feel song made of the body’s hollows.
I do not know if their marriage, this day, was still good
or whether it seemed again good
as they sang. I prefer to think of the choral conductor,
who sang with them. He sang all the parts, for love
not glory, or what seemed to be
glory to those who wandered in
and stood at the back of the hall, and listened.


– For more information on Suzanne Cleary, please click here.

– My Facebook page.

Poem of the Week, by Suzanne Cleary

We’re born with backups, twinned in so many ways: two hands, two ears, two eyes, two kidneys. Lose one and the other steps right up and does the job of both. But not with the heart. We each have only one of them.

– Suzanne Cleary

How does, how does, how does it work
so, little valve stretching messily open, as wide as possible,
all directions at once, sucking air, sucking blood, sucking air-in-blood,
how? On the screen I see the part of me that always loves my life, never tires
of what it takes, this in-and-out, this open-and-shut in the dark chest of me,
tireless, without muscle or bone, all flex and flux and blind
will, little mouth widening, opening and opening and, then, snapping
shut, shuddering anemone entirely of darkness, sea creature
of the spangled and sparkling sea, down, down where light cannot reach.
When the technician stoops, flips a switch, the most unpopular kid in the class
stands off-stage with a metal sheet, shaking it while Lear raves.
So this is the house where love lives, a tin shed in a windstorm,
tin shed at the sea’s edge, the land’s edge,
waters wild and steady, wild and steady, wild.

​For more information on Suzanne Cleary, please click here.

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

My Facebook page.

Poem of the Week, by Suzanne Cleary

– Suzanne Cleary (for David)

Anyone born anywhere near
my home town says it this way,
with an s on the end:
“The lake is cold but I swim in it anyways,”
“Kielbasa gives me heartburn but I eat it anyways,”
“(She/he) treats me bad, but I love (her/him) anyways.”
Even after we have left that place
and long settled elsewhere, this
is how we say it, plural.
I never once, not once, thought twice about it
until my husband, a man from far away,
leaned toward me, one day during our courtship,
his grey-green eyes, which always sparkle,
doubly sparkling over our candle-lit meal.
“Anyway,” he said. And when he saw
that I didn’t understand, he repeated the word:
“Anyway. Way, not ways.”
Corner of napkin to corner of lip, he waited.
I kept him waiting. I knew he was right,
but I kept him waiting anyways,
in league, still, with me and mine:
Slovaks homesick for the Old Country their whole lives
who dug gardens anyways,
and deep, hard-water wells.
I looked into his eyes, their smoky constellations,
and then I told him. It is anyways, plural,
because the word must be large enough
to hold all of our reasons. Anyways is our way
of saying there is more than one reason,
and there is that which is beyond reason,
that which cannot be said.
A man dies and his widow keeps his shirts.
They are big but she wears them anyways.
The shoemaker loses his life savings in the Great Depression
but gets out of bed, every day, anyways.
We are shy, my people, not given to storytelling.
We end our stories too soon, trailing off “Anyways….”
The carpenter sighs, “I didn’t need that finger anyways.”
The beauty school student sighs, “It’ll grow back anyways.”
Our faith is weak, but we go to church anyways.
The priest at St. Cyril’s says God loves us. We hear what isn’t said.
This is what he must know about me, this man, my love.
My people live in the third rainiest city in the country,
but we pack our picnic baskets as the sky darkens.
We fall in love knowing it may not last, but we fall.
This is how we know home:
someone who will look into our eyes
and say what could ruin everything, but say it,


For more information on Suzanne Cleary, please click here: http://www.suzanneclearypoet.com/

Poem of the Week, by Suzanne Cleary

Pascal’s Wager
– Suzanne Cleary

Pascal’s Wager is the kind of thing
you would discuss with a beer in your hand,
but then there was always a beer

in one of your hands, or passing from one to the other,
that summer we talked on your porch,
those rainy upstate nights, hot pavement steaming

as it cooled, the steam like fog close over a river,
beginning to lift toward invisibility.
I remember the wager like this: if we believe in God,

there is at least a chance we will see Heaven,
whereas, if we do not believe, we forfeit our place
in paradise. Pascal wrote there is no harm

in believing. If it turns out there is no God,
we’ve lost, he said, nothing, and if we do not believe,
and it turns out we are right, we have gained nothing,

Pascal not the kind of person, evidently,
to take satisfaction in having been right,
damned but right. I knew you drank. I saw the bottles.

I sat in your kitchen and I saw them, beside the stove.
You set your beer down to take a pot from the cupboard,
to pour rice into boiling water. You set it down again

to briefly admire, then chop, carrots and ginger,
to rinse red grapes, place them in a bowl,
all the while the two of us talking, a feast of ideas

and easy silence, as the small kitchen filled
with the smells of earth and, for all we knew,
for all we know, Heaven. When I think of you,

years later, it is usually because there is something
I want to tell you, or there is something I wonder about,
and I am alone in my wonder. I have thought

memory both Heaven and Hell. I wonder
if it is the same for you. Pascal’s theology,
as I understand it, examines doubt

because he believes faith commodious beyond reason,
as is God, who has made earth our home,
and lets us mistake it for Heaven.

​For more information on Suzanne Cleary, please click here: http://www.suzanneclearypoet.com/index.htm

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

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