POETRY: Angels Unawares by Kathleen Graber

Angels Unawares by Kathleen Graber

A stranger in the house of strangers:
an enormous grasshopper—
carried in on a sheet from the line & nearly tucked into the cupboard

with the linens but for the muffled rubbing of its legs & wings.
Magisterial, as it was borne in an old pan back out into the garden,

there is no specimen to match it at the little museum on the hill
where I go later seeking the exact word for what I’ve held.
What there are

are stuffed herons & harriers, a shelf of the common Coleoptera, butterflies
& bees. A resin cast of a large sea-going sunfish, which here they call luna,

& a turtle’s carapace, heart-shaped & golden in the places it has been waxed.
When asked to explain his inexplicable intuition for numbers,

the mathematician Ramanujan claimed the Goddess Namagiri came
& whispered formulae & proofs into his ear at night as he slept.

But because we are met here with wind all week,
I dream now
only of home—all of the little houses beset by a gale so constant

no one speaks because no one can hear. So that when I wake,
the early sounds seem important, as if they had been chosen,
emissaries

plucked from the roar & loaded onto the ark of earthly noise, which is,
of course, all too soon creaking with the weight of what has not been drowned.

First, the urgency of the rooster, whose cry begins, after all, not in the dawn
but in the darkness & the propane truck clattering on its rounds.

A minute later, bells.
But because there is no music,
I imagine, for a moment, plainsong & symphony are gone, playing now

only in the skulls of those who could still read & recall them. Scores opened
at random in a relentless din & set out under glass beside a French horn

or a fiddle.
The staves taking on with time the odd, unanchored beauty
of equations. Outside, the electric yellow caps of cape sorrel & the white

of the mustard & wild narcissus are pressed flat along the headlands.
Daily another wire bearing power into town is unbuckled & shopkeepers

close their doors & wander to the cafés near the citadel to drink & wait
in the silence & candle-glow.
The old stories suggest the grasshopper,

like us, is thirsty for wisdom yet slow to be taught. Perhaps everything
it knows must come to it then in some other way.
Scholars at Cambridge,

presented with Ramanujan’s theorems, concluded that they must be true
even though they could not understand them. Because if they were not true,

who would have had the imagination to invent them?
And perhaps
the grasshopper—twice again the length of one of the clothespins

it might otherwise have been—belongs to another world altogether,
a being delivered by accident on a ship of cotton bolls from the Levant.

And perhaps, blinded by its animal loneliness, it thought it recognized
in a simple wooden peg something it knew.
The basilica in Xewkija

was built to seat two thousand; science, however, has only these few
small rooms.
Its assembled host is unimpressive: a blue & red flag

flown to the moon & back & displayed with a note from Richard Nixon.
An antler of red coral. The shell of the urchin.
And limestone bricks

from the old prison into which, centuries ago, the jailed etched their signs:
the imprecise outline of a hand, ships with oars, a field of crosses, dates,

but no names.
The postulated meanings & order necessarily greater
than the sum of whatever is shown.
In the dream, everything light

is being broken. My father’s brother’s wife, the one we called Flower,
leans into a battered hedge, the pockets of her apron heavy with rocks.

She holds one out, wrapped in what I somehow know is a letter,
though if I ever take it & learn what it is it has to say, I have

already forgotten. Just as whatever more there might be to say
about any of this, in the brightness of noon, is also already lost.

Perhaps, if we are ever visited at all, it is meant to be like this:
not an annunciation but a consolation, the page on which it is written

folded into a tiny packet & lashed with brown twine to a stone.

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