Grace Schulman


In the beginning was the letter B.
Through B, God made the world. Today that sign

gleams on a keyboard neither for cadenzas
nor waterfall arpeggios, but for prayers

tapped out on keys that flicker like strung beads,
and brush like seashells, pearly, paper-thin,

tide washes in. I dwell on weightier strokes
by surer hands with trowels that dug out sound,

B at the base. For the B that blooms now,
curved like a bellflower in high wind,

a Phoenician sailed the letter Beth
to the Greeks for Beta, centuries ago.

B is for B.C.E., for Nestor’s cup,
for the stone scratches on a burial urn,

and for Babel’s blankness when our languages
were undone; B is for bare winters

of the untaught, for slaves’ songs bellowed out
on a free night, and for the blessed who learned

to write them down. B is for Hector’s burial,
and for the bending of angry Achilles,

who, when he remembers his own dead father
he will not see again, gives up the body,

and the Trojans buried Hector, breaker of horses.
B is for barbed rage, and for the bond

between one and another, and how the two
enfold, like buxom curves of the letter B,

and how, braided together, they brew words
benign and bellicose, brash and believing,

bits of ourselves strewn, rooted, over time.
B, the blaze of black fire on white fire,

the Torah’s letters, blares at the center,
bottom row, where my lines are born.


Fifth of July

Hot sun again. Coda to last night’s flares
that rose in giant O’s and fell in tears,
a lowd-own blue-note soprano sax blares
“O beautiful,” razz for the morning after.
Flags snap in pride but pride flags in the fire
of headline deaths, and high convictions lie
like fizzled-out red crackers on the shore,
now litter for the pick-up volunteers.
Up headland, the tide licks ochre stones
as though to coax their spirit, one by one,
in shallows, to lift up in the clean vapor
still found in road-sign names of English settlers,
and in print of Moses, my great-uncle
who grins at me now, strutting army medals
of World War I, prized early as the first
born here to foreign parents on a past
Fourth of July. O season of sky flashes,
give me instead dim lights of fireflies,
gleaming sea plankton, stars, and bayberry candles
of uncertainty, the rosebush on sand
burning but uncharred. Limits. An old shepherd
ambling across the shore and sniffing driftwood.

Work that appears on the KR web site is from The
Kenyon Review
and all applicable copyright restrictions apply.

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