|Joseph Featherstone is a poet, writer, and educator. He was an editor of the New Republic, and has served as the principal of the Commonwealth School in Boston, and for many years as the faculty leader of an acclaimed teacher education program at Michigan State University. He is the author of a number of books, including Dear Josie, Witnessing the Hopes and Failures of Democratic Education (Teachers College Press, 2002). His work has appeared in magazines such as Ploughshares and the Harvard Review. He has published a poetry collection, Brace’s Cove (New Issues), and has a new ms in preparation. Mr. Featherstone and his family have been living in East Gloucester summers, part-time, or full-time since the 1960’s.
Upon Reading that a Committee of the Catholic Church Has Abolished Limbo
Instead, we follow a loose thread from the hem of a cotton dress to a border —
the vast rim of vanished children in the arms of unknown nurses, their cries rising unanswered —
the zone of slippage between life and life repository and keep and dump of treasured and wasted
things, unfulfilled vows, the cat gone missing — and all those on this earth who die baptized only
by the waters of kindness — Oh, Reiko, tell me the story again — your grandfather,
home on his last furlough from the Pacific war, the black lacquer chopsticks flashing as he taught
his small daughter how to hold one grain of rice.
Sound is real
Parker looked at his watch
Put the horn in the case
And walked out the door
He knew what he could play
He knew this audience
Only way you die
Is if something kills you
Sound is Armstrong
Improvising so beyond
Never a straight chord
His high note
Not only for the high
I listened to the cantor Joseph Rosenblatt
I cried like a baby
Sobbing, praying, singing, all in one breath
I said wait
You can’t find those notes
They are not notes
They don’t exist
Of a human being
The sad of it
When you name you go too far
My mother was born Christmas Day
After I got my saxophone
When I learned to play something by ear
Listen to this, listen to this, I would say
Junior, you don’t have to tell me
I know who you are.
Sound does. Only voices do
This proves God has no master
Seeking what he fears —
fourteen months after, searching for new scripture,
There is no object so foul
that intense light will not make it beautiful
Calling from old brightness,
clean, white, not the dank cerements
of his daily mind. She contained the sea’s trembling —
their faith lodged in magnetism,
Not the errant compass needle.
His boots leaking ground water,
he refuses second sight. The soldered eye
misses the world’s bright wedding.
The Age of Ice
of daylight or recollection’s salt of night stars —
snap-frozen yesterday, smooth as doctrine but for the long glacial
Clear shallow bottom flies by — a lily in amber ice,
tuft of frozen thistle down, full of seeds.
a beehive in mind’s cello, knock of apple, the dump
of summer frogs. Breath catches
flashing the serene soft-lit parlors of fishes.
The ancient principle of ice is maintained by green leaves
and fossils and ten thousand seasons of hope’s polish.
Measured depths and daily risks instruct
a catechism of cold and melt. The haloes of the icons
in the sun’s glaring mercies
are proof of my cataracts, young and growing;
at the sight some old sweet edge divides and tells me I will die.
My motion dissents, calling out blue
and blueness to sky and Brace’s Cove, wildness.
I scrape quick on borrowed skates, as wick as any fern
When the great cold came all living things did not die.
Humans walked the frozen mirror
cut images with bones, took bits of burning birch
and outlined spring from memory.
I try a shaky figure eight
and meet, face housed in fur, the ancestor
who on the cave’s wall drew the pregnant mare.
For an Old Friend, Sober After Many Years
to see them at play — dropping a feather,
the long shadow of their necessity:
with no bugs yielded ranks of small corpses
All praise then for the discipline of tree swallows
burning through Niles Pond’s sun stoked mists —
they shoot like stars over a fresh moon that rises
over our old planet of luck and decay.
By wanting one thing or a very few things
they turn the morning from what it is not to what it is.
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