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Poets of the Monterey Bay

Four Poems by Len Anderson

Affection for the Unknowable

Let’s chop down the beanstalk climbing into the sky of I Am Sure.
Let’s roast the Giant in the holy fires of doubt and make our song We Are Not Sure.

At age seven I lived in the presence of God.  When the priest
asked me to confess my sins, I could only answer, I’m not sure.

How many souls burn in the flames of war
because a few men are not man enough to say, I am not sure?

In ninth grade algebra I took as my guru, X.  I follow still
its first teaching: To know me, say first, I’m not sure.

Aquinas had it all wrong: our language must describe the world, not
the world conform to language.  To be human is to hang on the cross, ever unsure.

Every atom in the universe is a quantum cloud of doubt.
God must really like I’m not sure’s.

A friend asks, Why drag God into your poems? Early in life I grew fond
of the unknowable.  And one of the names of God is I’m not sure.

We speak and the tongue trembles; we sing, the whole body quakes.
All the libraries in the world add up to I’m not sure.

It’s scary how quiet Len can be: his whole body fixed,
breathing stilled, eyes turned down, deep in another I’m not sure.

Photograph of My Father at Age Ten, 1910

He stands at attention like a child soldier
in his rough-sewn pants bunched at the waist,
white shirt with sash as a tie, boots and a hat.
The sun burns bright in those eyes tucked deep
under his brows; his mouth is turned down
at the edges, an Anderson mark I also bear.
The front steps on which he stands,
the skid walkway, the grass and the hedge rose
that climbs the house
lie in the glare of the sun,
but the porch of his home is so dark
one would pause and look before stepping in.

Already he is a little man; already his father
has walked out, leaving a wife and thirteen children
three blocks from skid row;
already his mother has told him, the youngest,
to go ask his father for money,
and he has been told, I don’t know you;
go away,
and watched the door slam.

Each day the steel rod in his spine
grows, each day he learns
there are things that will haunt him
and what it means to endure,
as his mother and father did, also at age ten,
on hardtack and salt pork nine weeks
in the ship from Norway.

He will never speak a word to me
of his abandonment, but one day
after I have lived two years unwed
with the woman I love, he will tell me
I should make up my mind.
He will say, There is something
I should tell you,
but he won’t,
and I won’t press him—only years later
will my niece say how,
at the breakup of her marriage,
my father called, spilled it all,
asked her to think of the children.

Today this ten-year-old
looks at me through deep-set eyes
only steps from the dark
shelter of his door and I
look hard to see
what I can rescue from this dark
and from the silence between us,
deeper now.

On the Nature of Things

The squawking crow
flies down from the redwood tree
to tell me
he is not a crow.

Not bird, not passerine bird
of the family Corvidae,
nor mind nor body
nor thing.

And not a crow.

In fact, he says,
he hasn’t even been
discovered yet.

When I was young I dreamt
I climbed marble stairs
toward the room that held
The Book of What Each Thing Is.
Golden light poured down those stairs
from a room so high
I could never see it.

From that book
I would learn
what is crow
what is redwood,
what am I.

Crow tells me
the black of his wings
is deeper than any book.

Friends, there are hours
I have no greater grief,
no greater joy.

I will never know
what I am.

flies down often
to tell me so.

Ghazal of a Physicist

In grad school I would get drunk—drunk on equations.
All along the hedgerow, the wind blew leaves in waves of equations.

In our yard the song of the mockingbird
sounds a lot like Schrödinger’s Equation.

I still search for a word that is not broken,
still find the solace of equations.

We do it on a tabletop or far out in space,
anywhere so we can make more little equations.

When my wife can’t sleep, she asks me to read to her
just one or two of her favorite equations.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m no reductionist.
The touch of skin on skin is beyond any equation.

Len says, In The Book of Names, every word from the human tongue
is a name of God, and so is every equation.

Additional poems by Len Anderson may be seen on the following websites:

The Monterey Poetry Review:
“One Day We Will Be Human” and “What Are You Saying? (2.6 MB download)

The Montserrat Review:
“Kinship with Silence” as “Sonance”

Copyright 2003, 2007