The Poetry Project

Two Poems by Robert Kelly


He kissed the leper
he tore off all his clothes
and ran naked,

wrote poems and never
became a priest,
never took vows,

wrote poems instead,
praised God in everything
everything he saw he said,

he said it with the sun
and with the wind, the rain,
and every word was praise.

Tore off his clothes
and went naked to the world
knowing God was all he needed

maybe the tunic that hangs
in that secret room at Assisi
is the very garment he threw off,

or maybe all the cloth
has blown away
and only the words remain,

he kissed the leper.
he stroked aloud
the petal of a roadside rose.

21 August 2020
Of John Bernardone, whom they called Frenchy


Another word was waiting.
The Trojan War. An empty
bottle floating in the surf,
volleying gently back and forth.
The shore. A spoon
to catch the sky in.
Mesdames et messieurs,
an ocelot for sale
on the left bank of the Seine
Sunday morning,
what kind of church is this.
Tumult of religion
when race is bad theology enough.
Open the side door. A moped
with a priest on it, all in white
and going fast. Car left idling
while the driver pees in the woods.
A familiar story
obscurely told, to quote a review.
What was the matter with the war,
why did it fizzle out, like rain,
is human violence
just a part of the weather?
An alabaster urn
to hold and honor emptiness.
Strange packages in the mail,
seven little roughly paper-wrapped
items covered with stamps,
how expensive to send me
and who would and what are they
small, each one a few ounces,
can rest on my palm, feel
soft inside, and seven of them,
stars? Dollars? Gleam
on the windshield of cars,
evidence of the sun,
water of the saint’s canal
gently oozing south,
really, we always call water
by the wrong names,
wrong color, we don’t understand
water, we use so much of it,
our bodies are mostly it, yet,
we gaze on it as a thing apart
when all you are is ocean am.
You are not the first person
to lose your way in these woods,
I have been wandering here
a thousand years at least
and all the roads lead further in.
Maybe the core is what it means,
like the old alchemists’ vitriol,
what you seek is deep inside
but you must purify yourself
and it to find it--something like that
their motto meant. Please,
feel free to use my telephone--
remember when you had to pay
long distance rates to call abroad
(five dollars I recall to buy a book
in Oxford once and thought it cheap)
but now everything is here.
That language on the notepad
is Slovenian, from a city
where dragons guard the river,
water is sacred, like language
but some find it easier to learn.
I wish Achilles had stayed in Thessaly,
he’d speak good Turkish now
or maybe even Bulgarian--
Helena was so happy here,
lovely she looked studying us
from up there on the parapet
as if the whole world
were in her hands. Stay home,
traveler! Turn your daggers
into tuning forks, to coin a phrase,
get all the instruments in tune,
sing it, play it, sing it louder,
drown out the actual
and your city will not fall.
This is what magic means,
and magic is all we have.
They read the wrong book
and the gate is gone.

VIDEO: Robert Kelly: A Celebration