Hermits Rock

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Updike poems

Alas, the only collection of Updike poetry that I have is Facing Nature (1985) that will have to be redressed.

Plow Cemetery

The Plow: one of the three-mile inns that nicked
the roads that led to Reading and eased the way.
From this, Plow Hill, Plowville—a little herd
of sandstone, barn and house like cow and calf,
brown sided—and, atop the hill, Plow Church,
a lumpy Lutheran pride whose bellied stones
Grandfater Hoyer as a young buck wheeled
in a clumsy barrow up the bending planks
that scaffolded around the rising spire.
He never did forget how those planks bent
beneath his weight conjoined with that of rock,
on high; he would tell of it in the tone
with which he recounted, to childish me,
dental pain he had endured. The drill,
the dentist warned him, would approach the nerve.
“And indeed it did approach it, very close!”
he said, with satisfaction, savoring
the epic taste his past had in his mouth.

What a view he must have commanded then,
the hickory handles tugging in his palms!—
the blue green hills, Reading a vast brick smudge
eleven winding miles away. The northward view
is spacious even from the cemetery,
Plow Cemetery, downhill from the church.
Here rest my maternal forebers underneath
erect or slightly tipping slender stones,
the earliest inscribed Hier ruhe, then
with acres of sentimental English set
afloat above the still-Germanic names
in round relief the regional soft rock
releases to the air slow grain by grain
until the dates that framed a brisk existence
spent stamping amid animals and weather
are weathered into timelessness. Still sharp,
however, V-cut in imported granite,
stand shadowed forth John Hoyer’s name, his wife’s,
his daughter’s, and his son in law’s. All four
mar one slab as in life they filled one house,
my mother’s final year left blank. Alert
and busy aboveground, she’s bought a plot
for me, for me, in Plow Cemetery.

Our earth here is red, like blood mixed with flour,
and slices easy; my cousin could dig
a grave in a morning with pick and shovel.
Now his son, also my cousin, mounts
a backhoe, and the shuddering machine
quick-piles what undertakers, for the service,
cloak in artificial turf as tinny
as Christmas. New mounds weep pink in the rain.
Live moles tummock the porous, grassy ground.
Traffic along Route 10 is quieter now
the Interstate exists in parallel,
forming a four-lane S in the middle view
that wasn’t there before, this side the smudge
red Reading makes between its blue-brown hills.
Except for this and ever-fresher graves,
I did resent my mother’s heavy gift,
her plot to bring me home; but slowly I
have come to think, Why not? Where else? I will
have been away for fifty years, perhaps,
but have forever to make my absence up.
My life in time will seal shut like a scar.

Sleeping with You

One creature, not the mollusk
clamped around an orgasm, but
more loosely biune, we are linked
by tugs of the blanket and dreams whose disquiet
trembles to the other body, creating
those eddies of semi-wakefulness wherein
we acknowledge the other is there
as an arm is there, or an ancestor,
or any fact admitted yet not known.

What body is warm beside mine,
what corpse has been slain
on this soft battlefield where we wounded
lift our heads to cry for water
or to ask what forces prevailed?
It is you, not dead, but entrusted
at my side to the flight the chemical mind
must take or be crazed, leaving the body
behind like matériel in a trench.

The moon throws back sunlight into the woods,
but whiter, cleansed by its bounce
amid the cold stars, and the owls
fly their unthinkable paths to pluck
the bleached shrew from her bed of leaves.
Dreaming rotates us, but fear
leads us to cling each to each as a spar
is clung to by the shipwrecked
till dawn brings sky-fire and rescue.

Your breathing, relaxed to its center,
scrapes like a stone on rough fiber,
over and over. Your skin, steeped
in its forgetting, sweats,
and flurries of footwork bring you near
the surface; but then your rapt lungs slip
with a sigh back into the healing,
that unpoliced swirling of spirit
whose sharing is a synonym for love.


flattens the world—its bubbles
of blis, its epiphanies, the upright
sticks of day to day, business—
and shows us what seriousness is.

And shows us, too, how those around us
do not and cannot share
our being; though men talk animatedly
and challenge silence with laughter

and women bring their engendering smiles
and eyes of famous mercy,
these kind things slide away
like rain beating on a filthy window

when pain interposes.
What children’s pageant in gauze
filled the skull’s ballroom before
the caped dark stranger commanded, Freeze?

Life is worse than folly. We live
within a cage wherefrom escape
annihilates the captive; this, too,
pain leads us to consider anew.

Ode to Rot

Der gut Herr Gott
said, “Let there be rot,”
and hence bacteria and fungi sprang
into existence to dissolve the knot
of carbohydrates photosynthesis
achieves in plants, in living plants.
Forget the parasitic smuts,
the rusts, the scabs, the blights, the wilts the spots,
the mildews, and aspergillosis—
the fungi gone amok,
attacking living tissue,
another instance, did Nature need another,
of predatory heartlessness.
Pure rot
is not
but benign; without it, how
would the forest digest its fallen timber,
the woodchuck corpse
vanish to leave behind a poem?
Dead matter else would hold the elements in thrall—
nitrogen, phosphorous, gallium
forever locked into the slot
where once they chemically triggered
the lion’s eye, the lilly’s relaxing leaf.

All sparks dispersed
to that bad memory wherein the dream of life
fails of recall, let rot
proclaim its revolution:
the microscopic hyphae sink
their fangs of enzyme into the rosy peach
and turn its blush a yielding brown,
a mud of melting glucose:
once-staunch committees of chemicals now vote
to joint the invading union,
the former monarch and constitution routed
by the riot of rhizoids
the thalloid consensus.

The world, refreshed, rolls to renewed fullness;
the oranges forgot
in the refrigerator “produce” drawer
turn green and oblate
and altogether other than edible,
yet loom as planets of bliss to the ants at the dump.
The banana peel tossed from the Volvo
blackens and rises as roadside chichory.
Bodies loathsome with their maggotry of ghosts resolve
to earth and air,
their fire spent, and water there
as a minister must be, to pronounce the words/
All process is reprocessing;
give thanks for gradual ceaseless rot
gnawing gross Creation fine while we sleep,
the lightening-forged organic conspiracy’s
merciful counterplot.