Lana Orphanides is the author of three poetry collections and has read her work to great acclaim throughout Connecticut. She is a member of the Connecticut River Poets and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives on Pine Island Bay in Groton with With her husband, Demetrios. The following poems are from her most recent book, "Searching for Angels."
– Rennie McQuilkin, CT poet laureate
Surely it wasn't Gabriel
the archangel but Gabriella
spiriting through the window,
sitting close beside her
like a mother
or a sister helping make the bread,
spreading out the woven blue of cloth
in the dark, cool kitchen
among the hanging rosemary and the rue
and Mary tying on her sandals,
gathering her thoughts for what
no man could understand
but this angel,
came like wind
or blowing sand
across a distant desert
like a startling light.
Yet she could not see
The angel did not tell.
Later would be time enough.
The body does not forget.
It remembers the child in the belly,
the first feeling of roundness,
the bold corner of a foot,
the milk spilling in the breast.
It stretches and folds and grows
limp. Rises and tightens and grasps
and lets go but does not forget.
Once I watched the birth of a calf as it
struggled out of its mother, she licking
and cleaning and the calf raggedly standing
just out of the womb, falling, resting, rising
once again. The mother too rising quickly
after this hoof-kicking, long-legged birth,
prodding and watching, no lying down,
You too had long legs when you were born
though I hardly remember your coming out,
and I was not standing soon after
but you were clean and fresh as porcelain
and, in the peace of the dark room,
I felt that I was the one
who had come through
to the other side.
There was something in the sky
a light for sure
no voice that we could recognize
still it drew us
We were waiting for a sign
We could not explain why we gathered those things
why we left that night
when it was so cold for a journey
There was no path
no sure direction
We were tired certainly
tired of where we had been
what we had done with our lives
Time seemed to shorten
to compress and the only sound
Occasionally we talked
Each word formed had more meaning
than the usual chatter
There was that light
that lifted something in our spirits
We all agreed
it made us stronger
not thinking of the end of the journey itself
but of this going
How You Visit
Sometimes, I hear your laughter in my own,
bubbling up from an underground
spring of sweet water, a trilling sound of a bird
I cannot name unless perhaps
it's a crowd of scarlet tanagers,
or that towhee-like bird
I heard in New Zealand
whose notes were impossibly high and clear,
singing, "Drink your tea, drink dear,"
the last sounds clinking as I climbed
to the Cathedral in the Rock.
But, I don't know.
You do not appear
in my mirror, your hands in their usual movements
of larks flying. It is as though we visit
for a short while but there is no conversation.
That you come in laughter amazes me
and after, I turn my head, sure
of the disappearing scent of your perfume,
and speech, then, seems too tied to earth.
Lavender and the soft haze
of sage, pale green capers,
and wild thyme
lined the path
to the sea. Below us
was a small, empty crescent,
far from the town,
the moonscape of mountains behind.
The weather was windy, and this our first swim
in the still cold Aegean.
I invited my mother,
dead then eight years, for the dip.
I asked if she'd like to dive with me,
warm me, sustain me, make me look brave.
She smiled, almost laughed
and gladly came diving.
all spirit, her long
joined mine. Motion and essence,
we arched like a dolphin,
a sound wave
of coming and going.
In that moment as light
rolled into darkness,
ocean spilled into ocean, I was liquid and flowing,
I was past and present, future and never.
I was water and space and the taste
of salt. I was gone
and come back unafraid.
My Father's Breath
In the Greek church on the fortieth day after death, a memorial
service is said for the soul.
It is forty days since your death. A hemisphere away,
I find the monastery of miracles,
Saint Rafael and Nicholas.
It is dusk, an amber sky.
We park the car quickly and I
run up the cobblestones to the door. Locked.
Too late to light a candle,
send you safely on,
as if I, your fallen angel, have the power,
as if you, stark Catholic, in heaven
already, would care about the forty days,
the candle lit.
Across the way is the church of the monastery,
The Church of Magdalene. The door is open.
A dark figure of a woman stands just inside.
She is chanting, but it is the sound of evening birds,
melodic, joyful. No death dirge. She will chant for hours,
incense of myrrh surrounding her.
No place to kneel, no chairs,
I stand before
the icon of Magdalene,
dark with age and sorrow,
tears pulsing behind my eyes,
and light my candle,
just as a breeze
blows a kiss
across the flame.
I said, God, where the hell are you?
and God said,
I will be square
or perhaps oval with rippling edges.
I will be sometimes two parts or many.
I will melt magenta into white paper
I will be
bubbles in the air or
molecules you cannot see.
I will be waiting
behind that blade of grass.
This is no ordinary time.
climb the skies,
light the hillsides
and the bear comes in.
The air is sharp
and the sky is more
transparent now. Prayers travel easily through it.
From where we are we can see the Universe
From where we are
new islands are appearing,
are sterling and gold.
In the shining cold
we hide under the covers
spring will never return. But watch
how the earth tilts towards the sun,
in its spinning
Watch how the light
chases the darkness,
the lilting stars
and slide into morning.
Let's gather the winter colors around,
into magical white,
lean into the earth
and bend with it.
The dark sky will open.
All poems copyright © 2015 by Lana Orphanides.
CT Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin selects work for CT Poets Corner by invitation.