28 | Poetry by Joshua St. Claire, Winner of the Haiku Society of America Senryu Award
Editor’s Note: Three shots of haibun based on actual events, a haibun ekphrasis to maintain, with a rengay chaser to send you home happy.
Bible Study: Luke 12:2
He began to get agitated when I brought up the Fermi Paradox. I was saying, skeptically, “but do you really think there could be aliens? Why stay hidden? Why haven’t they revealed themselves to us?” My friend, the Christian physicist, so intent on understanding the secrets of God’s creation, grew quiet and awkward. His demeanor changed. His breathing intensified.
“Can I trust you? You can’t tell anyone . . .”
I asked what he had to tell me.
How bright the lights in their bedroom. How strange the touch of the shepherd’s crooks (were they magic or machine?) How black and dead (or was it merely unliving?) their eyes. How the joints of their hands (neither animal, vegetable, nor mineral) bent so strangely. How they gathered at the foot of his bed. How similar, but how different from the movies. How they led him through the house. How he had no control. How they were silent, but their commands pulsed in his head. How he obeyed. How, afterward, every family member agreed perfectly on what happened.
How he prayed . . . still prays . . . prays . . . prays . . .
the morning star
there when you see it
there when you don’t
Maybe It Was Just a Drone
It was midsummer and each night the glow of dawn seemed to come back minutes after the sun retreated behind the horizon. I was just a few weeks into a new job, and I had to go into the office early to arrange an all-hands meeting with my new firm. My car needed to go into the shop and my wife and sons had plans that day near my office, so we decided to carpool. We shuffled all our little ones into our van and left our house at 5:00 AM. I always enjoyed driving around at dawn in the summer. It is eerie to see the whole city lit up with sunlight but few cars and no pedestrians. It’s like driving around after the Apocalypse.
Halfway through the trip, one of our boys had a diaper emergency. I pulled over in the parking lot of a strip mall that I had been in at least a hundred times before, threw the car into park, and hopped out into the glow of a new day.
Dawn was raking her fingers through the sky. I looked up for a moment to enjoy the sunrise before doing what had to be done. There it was . . . a silver Mylar balloon floating from across the street. Some poor kid must have lost it . . .
Wait a minute! There aren’t any stores open to sell balloons. There aren’t any kids awake to lose them. There is no string, either. I look again . . . a metallic, oblate spheroid the size of a basketball is traveling parallel to the ground fifty feet above me, flashing and glimmering in the sun. I am stunned for a moment at the realization that I am seeing something unusual. I check my watch…will I be missing time? I run up to get my wife’s attention as I fumble for my phone.
We look up. It stops for a moment and, suddenly, before I can snap a picture, it launches into the atmosphere and out of sight.
Afterwards, I was quite taken aback to realize all the things that came together to put me right there at that specific time and place . . . the new job, the early travel for a meeting, the other car in the shop, my wife and kids having plans that day, the diaper emergency, the memory of a lost balloon . . .
what watches me
while I look
From time to time, when her knees could take it, my grandmother would trek up the steep driveway of her neighbor, Mrs. Smeltzer, to “have a sit” and shoot the breeze. When I was a young boy, Mrs. Smeltzer was the oldest living thing I could imagine, and, therefore, I found her fascinating. If I was visiting my grandmother and I promised to be very quiet and sit very still, I was also allowed to accompany her up the steep hill to visit Mrs. Smeltzer—but only on the back porch or in the library downstairs.
Mrs. Smeltzer and my grandmother would sit and talk and talk and talk—and I would listen. They would talk about anything and nothing—recipes, old Dutch magic, books, the garden, defunct factories. Today they were reminiscing about an old acquaintance.
Mrs. Smeltzer asked my grandmother if she remembered Gertrude Hetrick (she did) and her old stone house on Main Street in South Middleton (the one with the ivy on the walls) where the sycamores grow along the road (of course) and their branches meet in the middle (a cool, shady drive). Now there were houses there, (when will they stop putting up new houses?) but it used to be a farm (a potato farm). When she was just a girl, Mrs. Smeltzer said that she used walk out there and sit on the back porch (nice and breezy) and sit and talk for hours with Gertrude until the sun went down.
One night she and Gertrude noticed three bright lights by the horizon. Brighter than a star. Brighter than Venus. They began to move. Gertrude said “up,” and they went up. She said “down,” and they went down. She said “left,” and they went left and “right,” and they went right. She said “spin,” and they spun. The lights obeyed her and danced for hours until, at last, Mrs. Smeltzer said, “come . . .”
the will-o’-wisps lead us
On the Madonna with Saint Giovannino
There, at her feet, heaven embraces the Earth. Their robes are blood—our blood—which just once bore the imprint of heaven. Looking on, in love and reverence, the mother, the vessel of our salvation, sees her blood born again in her son and her nephew. Time is there as well—the great gnomon which separates the old and the new, the before and the after. She understands the importance of these children, playing simply, who mark the beginnings and endings of eras, but, in the knowing tranquility of her gaze, we see that she is, first and foremost, a kind and loving mother.
Of course, Domenico Ghirlandaio makes it clear that the subject of the title is not the subject of the painting. Follow the bull’s horn to the peasant, shading his eyes from the bright objects in the sky. Don’t be fooled. These aren’t angels from the Annunciation or the Nativity. Above the babies, a mothership sends probes to Earth. What extraterrestrial magi seek the King of Heaven? Above the Virgin Mary, a flying saucer crackles with bolts of strange energy as a rapt rustic stares in wonder.
In the Vatican, there are contingency plans for converting and baptizing aliens. Perhaps they know more than they are letting on.
a fallen angel
tests absent wings
(by Jill Trade & Joshua St. Claire)
a circle of light
dances on the horizon
five falling lights
midnight paratrooper training
bright blue streaks
kids setting off
through the cloud city
flying saucer flashing
tourists from the future
grinning in the windows
Editor’s Note: Recently, Joshua and the other twelve members of the Poets Thirteen were nominated for the Pushcart Prize by this publishing house for their renku, “Quantum Entanglement,” which appeared in the debut issue of The Lotus Tree Literary Review. Joshua served as the poem leader, or sabaki.