Five poems by Marly Youmans

The most recent books by MARLY YOUMANS are the book-length poem Seren of the Wildwood (Wiseblood Books, 2023); a novel set in Puritan New England, Charis in the World of Wonders (Ignatius Press, 2020); and her most recent collection of poems, The Book of the Red King (Phoenicia Press, 2019.) She divides her time between Cooperstown, New York and Cullowhee, North Carolina.

The White Ibis 

Shell islands bleached to white, left by natives

In salty tidal rivers, and the ibis 

Dazzling against the sky…and there I saw

The wedding-froth of mating plume and leaned 

And caught a feather in my hand, the whole 

Bounty of landscape trembling with the heat 

And with the strange and flaring energies 

Of something not yet known, one tremendous

Something manifesting presence… that’s how 

It was for me, so strange it was to stare 

From the prow of the sailboat and to let 

A sunlit feather slip into my hand. 

At dead of night the ibis came to me, 

As beautiful as Eros to the soul, 

And bent to press its breathing dream-shape close 

Until I shivered, feeling spirit pour

Out of the river with its oyster isles,

Out of starred sky, out of the heart of the bird, 

Proclaiming more and more and ever more, 

Hidden behind the arras of the world. 

The Summoning

Long ago, I rode a horse

   As pretty as a ballad and strong,

And I called his name Lord Randal,

        With a neck like a tower, withers

As glossy as the Chinese silk,

             And all of him a song.

One day we found a curling path

   That led into the forest’s edge,

And on that path there lay a thing,

        Magic of a flaming feather.

The horse Lord Randal said to me,

             Here’s trouble, ruin’s pledge.

And did I bend to grasp the gold

   That bore the mark of fairyland,

And was I careless of the wrong?

        Come danger and come woe together!

I cried, and marveled at the fire

In rachis, calamus, and vane

           That quivered in my hand. 

To the Flowers

Flowers, you give yourself effortlessly, 

Without a stint, now strewing fragrances

But soon your petals in a dream of rain. 

I think you are a lesson meant for me, 

You giving soul and beauty all away 

And never counting out a single cost. 

I lean into the breeze, feeling myself 

Like grasses, rippling with the summer’s sun, 

Seeking like you to give myself away, 

Artlessly with art, a paradox 

That will lose luster, die, and be a seed.

Three hundred yards away from Lake Otsego,

The river makes small thunders at the dam,

Not yet the potent Susquehanna, no,

And the great blue heron like a long-legged god

Who rules the leaves and lapidary rocks

Skewers a fish and stalks out of the stream

Picking his everlasting way on stones…

I would not be the bluegill with his small

And flapping motions, helpless to change a fate,

Nor the heron, kingly in his element:

I side with flowers, incense, radiance,

The streaming of a blossom into air.

The Angel in the Tree

Who can understand the sins of angels?

Angular figure bent to thieve

A single egg, the bangle

Of halo dangling from a branch as leaves

Wholly surrendered to the wind

Go still: some presence grieves

The bird, the nest, the plucking from the tree,

The way the angel’s featherings

Seem leaves, the tragedy

In falls of feathered and unfeathered things…

A pebble that disturbs a pool

Begets a world of rings.

“Pray You, Love, Remember”

   This painting is the first using my daughter Cecelia’s motifs, 

    in my own style; her peonies, her sky, a glass structure 

    representing her soul house. —Laura Murphy Frankstone

A simple, delicate glass house to float

In skies like lakes, with peonies that float 

Like clouds and pitch their shadows on the sky

Like lilies on a pond, though clearly sky

Lades the canvas field with its forever,

Mystical, transparent blue forever…

The soul-house, left adrift in peonies,

Sets free one note of song, and peonies

Begin to stream perfume and streaks of song

Until the sky and blooms and glass and song

Are blent as one, and soul as fair as glass

Is painted, snared in flower-cloud and glass…

   O soul-house sing the songs of kingdom come,

   Of was and is and timelessness to come.