No. 4 & 5


Ilya Bernstein  

* * *

Like folds in the Madonna’s mantle,
The Apennines, seen from above,
Slope to the bottom, steep and gentle,
And the eye looks for the Archangel
And scans the sunlight for the dove.

When noon, like an annunciation,
Catches the climber on the path
His shoes radiate love and tension --
His shoes radiate love and tension
And mountains magnify his breath.

As the years roll by I often wonder
If this whole world is some kind of birth.
And with each footstep I grow fonder
Of the rocks aggregated under
My shoes, the gravel and the earth.

* * *

Today in church during a concert
My eyes roamed around the open hall,
Over the roof-beams, along the balconies,
And up and down, taking in all.

Overhead the stained-glass lights I noticed,
Shaped like lanterns, but oversized:
Like elongated nests of hornets
With turned-on chandeliers inside.

Worked into the glass were tall crosses
In blue, measuring a vertical length.
Below, an alpha and an omega
In light a premise did reflect.

The concert over, I asked my friend
What letters anywhere in the room
From where he sat he saw distinctly.
He pointed up: “At least those two.”

Then for an instant we looked together
Where side by side the two letters glowed
And my friend differently read them:
“They tell you: be in  of God.”

To me this one willful misreading
Meant more than I could to him express.
I saw light pulled out of the light
That was pulled out of emptiness.

I saw the actual letters laughing
Side by side in their stained-glass frames:
“We, Greek, read as if we were Latin!
But for all that we’re still the same.”

And wondering from what one perspective
To read the letters on a lamp,
I stumbled on where least expected
Mockery bearing heaven’s stamp.

* * *

My eyes are locked in stained-glass windows
And I can hardly see a thing
Beyond their green and blue and crimson --
As rigid as the ice in winter, 
As fragile as the leaves in spring.

I’ve heard of people locked in prisons,
I’ve heard of sailors tied to masts --
But if that’s true, then human vision
Is paralyzed within a prism
That hardens like a plaster cast.

I can’t see through these scenes of Jesus --
The fault is with my rods and cones --
But from outside the sunlight teases
My eyesight, broken into pieces,
And shows me colors trading tones.

Piero della Francesca

Never give up the search
For paths of least resistance:
Conceive and build a church
To overmaster distance.

If in defining God
We strive after exactness,
Then let’s give his lifeblood
A fitting name: compactness.

The surplus always comes
When it is least expected:
Godlike are scattered crumbs,
But more, when they’re collected.

Minimal use of space
For the profoundest function
Will gradually displace
And daunt the extreme unction.

So may this truth be taught
And loved as a religion:
Economy lets thought
Emerge in any region.



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