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A Book for Going Forth by Day

                                    Stephen Frech


Matins: Ink Bottles and Their Midnights

At the edge of town, quiet barrels fill
with moonlight and the low moan of cows.

Somewhere in that field, orphans have buried a treasure,
and the ground bears it beneath the hooves
of ruminating cows, grinding their teeth.

Come spring, the sodden field will yield to lesser burdens.
When I wake abruptly from deep sleep
and my eyes take a long time adjusting to the dark,
the lowing of cows reminds me which world I’m in.

This night touches us, a seamless robe
of separate darknesses: the barrel, our bodies,
ink bottles and their midnights.  I have wanted
to write a song, love, that would stay with you,
that might hum with us through the dark.


Lauds: The Promise of Hyacinths

For a time, we live alone in our bodies.
We wait and dream of rain.

The dirt drinks its first draught of icemelt,
runoff echoes in the downspout,
and pools in depressions on the ground.

To rise from our dark bed early,
to speak in whispers,
to have nothing and only give
is to be in one’s own body a promise:

the first bloom on a bare stalk,
the body’s secret shape of blossom
inside us a long time waiting,
flowering in thirst,
breaking in fever.


Sext: A Song Passing on the Water

We were once carried, nested
in the narrow rooms of our mothers’ bodies

through an interminable midnight to other distances.
We travel now in the cramped interiors of our own bodies
through fields grey with winter and harvest stubble.

Farmers have heaped their dried corn,
literal mountains of it, where the road meets the river.
Barges wait for their portion, their empty hulls
like holes in the river.

Imagine there are no boundaries, field to field,
barge hitched to barge, body, river, corn.
We find ourselves here now, together in full sun,
and the song we hear passing on the water sings for us.
Imagine—we can hold it to our bodies.


Vespers: Lifting a Likeness of the Tree

But at sunset you see the day has been in motion
all along: arrivals, hasty departures, goodbyes.

A tree rearranges itself and the sky.
A rush of wings—sparrows burst into flight
lifting from the tree a likeness of the tree,

lingering beyond it, still intact,
like a coat that retains the shape of its wearer
and the warmth.  A likeness rises and doesn’t disappear.
Somewhere out of sight it gathers again,

bird to bird, leaf to leaf, wing to wing.
These willing sparrows, that familiar coat:
that’s where we go at dusk—to be embraced
by birds that knowingly give up flight
to hold us, and in holding us fly.


Compline: A Book for Going Forth by Day

We live in the kingdom of our bodies,
swelling toward the moon, orbiting each other.

Who has come to that fence, greeted the animals,
their shyness, their reticence, and not wanted,
even quietly, to be on the other side?

Let my body be a way of entry, a gate, a door.
Step through my body into tall grass; step among
the orchard trees and the horses edging the fence,
craning their necks for grass from the far field.

Let my body be a book for going forth by day,
for giving back to the world the world,
the things for which I have the least explanation,
but a wellspring of thanks: moonlight,
your body, this portion of earth that’s lent to us.


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