Mass for the Grace of a Happy Death by Frank X. Gaspar


Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (1994)


Frank Gaspar's beautifully wrought poems in this exquisite book surge with the heat of human desire fueled by the luminosity of a transient grace. These are extraordinary poems -- precise, musically complex, darkly radiant, and startlingly wise. Their power accrues exponentially, as Gaspar's lamentations, half-spoken prayers, and songs of the flesh and spirit collide and merge into a seamless quest for an affirmation of existence, wherein each of us must "walk so tenuously among the tenuous living." -- Maurya Simon



We woke to the sound of anthracite
sliding down the truck's long chute
and ran to the window to see snow
spitting over the heaved walk
and the men hauling the big hods into the shelf
with their perfect balance, their leaning shoulders
and jutting hips, quick-stepping, someplace
else to get to, the morning going off
to that fossil midden of days
where we come now to rake and sift,
as we did then in the dark bins
when no one thought to look for us,
when we could disappear among the black sooty
paragons of coal -- this in the time before art
and language, with only God making us promises,
spreading His truth in the aromatics of kerosene
and the iron rust of axeheads and saws,
in coal dust in slow galactic drift before
the plain field of the shed window, in absolute
equations of time and matter coming down
around our ears and filling our noses and heaping
their bounty upon eyelash and hay-rake.
Our quick hearts beat at the edge of winter,
and a sudden voice called out, sharp as air,
and the moment receded according to all
the scriptures of nature, once, once,
and the small, pale-knuckled hands rummaged,
rubbing the chinked facets of coal, bringing out
the feathery traces of the long-dead ferns and leaves,
those dim ghosts polished, locked in falling light.

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