This April Day by Judson Mitcham


Judson Mitcham is, to use his own fine phrase, a "comedian of innocence." And in his new book he shows himself to be a comedian of experience as well. I can't think of a poet in America today who is writing more movingly or with a greater depth of humor. His poems can inspire tears or laughter. Often both. --Mark Jarman

[About Somewhere in Ecclesiastes, also by Judson Mitcham:] Judson Mitcham is a find. A psychologist in rural Georgia, he has emerged as one of the most original and genuine voices in recent American poetry. His language is a slow music, a dance that pulls us out of our chairs and into his world, which is also our world, its sadness and beauty moving us to notice, with him, the details of lives that tell us who we are and were, and what we might become. -- Susan Ludvigson

[About Judson Mitcham's novel, The Sweet Everlasting:] A masterpiece ... one of the best books of fiction I have ever read. Scene after scene of stunning precision and clarity. The straight and simple voice of this novel can break your heart. -- Fred Chappell

[More about The Sweet Everlasting:] Scene after scene of stunning precision and clarity. The straight and simple voice of this novel can break your heart. -- The Boston Globe


History of Rain

What if every prayer for rain brought it down?
What if prayer made drunks quit the bars, numbers hit,
the right girl smile, shirts tumble from the dryer
fully ironed? What if God

required no more than a word? Every spot
of cancer would dissolve like peppermint,
every heart pump blood through arteries as clean
as drinking straws then. All grief would be gone,

all reverence and wonder. But if rain
should fall only once in a thousand years, rare
as a comet, if for fifty generations
there was never that sweet hint of metal in the air

until late one April afternoon
when the dust began to swirl above the ballfield,
and the first big drops fell, popping in the dirt,
and sudden as a thought, great gray-white sheets

steamed on the asphalt, fought with the pines,
would we all not walk out trying to believe
our place in the history of rain? We'd be there
for the shining of the world:

the weeds made gaudy with the quicksilver breeze;
the rainbows floating over black-glass streets;
each cupped thing bright with its blessing; and long
afterwards, a noise like praise, the rain

still falling in the trees.


In the Sweet By and By

I had seen the earth open and close, the golden ash
of pollen wash away, each thin copper spine
of broomsage bending in the dawn,

as if burdened by the shining of the sun;
I had stared at the dirt; tried to reason what it meant
if the moon flared white on a wet tin roof,

if the clover bowed waving in the wake of every car,
if the petals of the dogwoods fell;
I had sat drinking coffee in the all-night diner,

with one good question for the universe
if people still joked at the counter,
if the hot grill hissed like rain,

if the rain fell softly in the parking lot;
like a slow child puzzled by a story's end,
I had kicked up dust to watch it float;

I had stumbled out stunned some days, like a boy
still lost in the afternoon movie, unprepared
for the late sun burning in the street;

but when I stood with my mother in the church,
a month since we had left him in the earth;
when the years swirled back like weather, there,

where the windows thrown open in July, long ago,
brought creosote and pine smells, freshly cut grass,
let the trucks' low groans on the highway rise

with every old anthem, every prayer;
where revivals once built all week like desire,
so the quiet in the worship hall crackled,

bristling with a charge, as if fire might arc
between the Word and the not-yet-saved;
where the preacher lay an everlasting weight

on the one final stanza we would sing;
where he pleaded with the lost until the yawn
of eternity began with the hymn's last note;

where I stood with my mother in the back row now,
found the melody and followed it, as though
there were nothing else to do; and when I heard

the alto my mother used to sing
at the ironing board or working in her flower bed
or standing at the sink, each note told the truth:

though the days break new in a mockingbird's throat,
and a gauzy mist stalls above a creekbed, spins,
as if conscious of its body in the light;

though a dying man can't help laughing at a joke,
so he rocks in his own wasted arms;
and a raincloud leans like a barn set to fall,

while the wind starts to whistle in the wires;
and though a woman lies back on the loading dock,
waiting for her ride while the sky turns red,

and a girl leaving work at the truckstop walks
toward a greasy strip of grass beyond the parking lot,
as the breeze cuts across the wisteria, its smell

mingled with the diesel and the smoke;
though the boys looking hard for a lost ball pause
for the brief wild sugar of the honeysuckle,

and a galaxy will whirl through the wilderness
like an oak leaf wheeling toward a roof; even though
the clover and the dogwoods bloom, we become

nothing, not the actors in a dream, not the mist,
not a new stone lowered into earth. We are like
the hymns once played on the out-of-tune piano

in the living room, harmonies defined
by the family that stood there - versions no one else
will ever reproduce. Sunday morning,

as we struggled through the chorus, there it was,
still, in my mother's soft alto -- the old
promise in her voice.

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