How to Worship
Today, a thousand fallen leaves: some yellow,
some red, some green, some circling the trees.
They teach us how to worship, and the wind—
it lifts the worshippers. It whips them up.
They seem hysterical with happiness.
I am hysterical with happiness.
The sun shines on my head and on my hands.
It touches the whiteness of the page. Meanwhile,
inside, outside and everywhere, my friends
and people I have never met or known,
contribute to the tumult. Let’s make an aisle,
and, stepping through the happy congregation,
cradle the grocerybags, search for the keys,
and wipe our feet before we enter the house.
The Happiness of Trees
I don’t want to instruct. I want to be
instructed by trees, loosed of leaves and leavings.
I go, step over the threshold and out into the yard.
Already my arms swing overhead. And you,
watching from the stoop; you, clutching your coat
and visoring your brow, wonder: Is he healed?
As if the cracks, where limbs meet trunk, were doubt.
Or the crazy pattern on the ground,
where the roots rise and threaten to go, proof.
The wind won’t sound the same all winter now,
and birds will have to strain to find the south.
What songs remain will seem sweeter and low,
because you have been waiting and you want to hear.
This happiness is difficult to know.
It Might Be Happiness
It might be happiness that stops my mouth.
Let me keep silent all day like a monk.
Let me pray over a simple bowl of rice and milk.
Let me find the right word before I speak this time.
The others talk, when there is nothing left to say,
or sing, because the house feels lonely to them.
But even crickets pause and wait for a response
before they fill the room again with noise.
And birds, the cardinals, who mate for life,
light on the sill and tilt their heads like so,
and all around the yard there might be snow
or wind unsettling the stable world,
but each will listen for the other one
and then continue as if satisfied.
The Nature of Praise
The wind returns and blows around the house.
It shakes the rafters and upsets the joints.
They creak and say, Enough, we give, and then,
before the buckling, the sun comes out.
The wind shrinks back and drags the sea-hem with it.
Some trees have been destroyed. The roof collapsed.
These windows cracked and spider-webbed, and birds—
unlucky ones, that might have sung for joy
had they survived—lie crumpled in the grass.
Already I see crows, shiny and black.
They croak and fill the neighborhood with cries.
Their beaks are nudging at the corpse in case
their senses lie and it shake off the blow
to rise. Then all the cawing turns to praise.
The Newest Happiness
The sky is cloudless. The trees have lost their leaves.
And everywhere the stars shine bright and cold.
The house is warm. Upstairs, we sleep. Our hands
have sought each other out to cup and hold.
The moon enters as if to light the room.
How lovely loveliness appears tonight.
Perhaps we have been happier, but this,
this is the newest happiness, and it is ours.
It is the one we have and have to share.
It’s like the sound of wings, and they are fluttering
to rise. Or is it that intenser shuddering
before the bird alights and finds the limb?
It feels auspicious now to build a nest
against the cold, or quit and fly apart.
A Quiet Evening at Home
Here comes the wind. It upsets everything.
It wails and whines and shouts, Hello! down the flue.
A fire burns on the irons. Dark arms hold up
the coals and flames. Inside, we are warm, sleepy,
ready for dreams. Together, we climb the stairs,
undress, turn out the light and kiss goodnight.
If I awake later and find I’m changed
or lost, remind me why we came this far,
why every time you cautioned me, I put
my hand like this as if to say: Don’t fear!
I am afraid. Outside, the night is raw
and threatening. The cold is everywhere.
The trees give up even surrendering,
and brave limbs break or bend to save themselves.
After a Night of Wind
The sparrows flit along the ground and turn
the leaves to find a little food, dry seeds,
dry bark and browse. The hawk is circling
the afternoon. Where does he sleep all night?
Or does he stay awake and fold his wings
over his beak? The hunter can’t afford
to rest. Look how he stands above the house
and steps over the roof. It makes me happy
to look up and see his quivering silhouette,
still poised, still armed, still turning around the world…
It was like this last night. The wind upset
the trees, trash lids unlatched, and everywhere
it seemed a god was testing, like a pry,
where joint meets joint and seams might come apart.
What the Wind Does to the Trees
Consider what the wind does to the trees.
How the leaves will wave to welcome a storm,
and how your hair blown round your scalp will stay,
as if a crest, like so. And though there may
not be a way to cite catastrophe
and say exactly here or there it hurts
or pulls or breaks, like a limb on a windy night,
the shine of water and the sound of surf,
the colloquy of birds, even in winter,
calling from leafless branch to leafless bush,
and the rain upsetting the shingled roof,
predict how rough a season or how mild
a retreat might be. They offer, too,
a circumstance that feels like sympathy.
Like Emptiness, Like Home
The trees move constantly this time of year,
waving their arms above their heads like fools.
The grass is frozen still. But in the distance
I see the waves’ white piping, a kind of embroidery.
Over the roofs, white gulls glide on the wind,
and up and down the street, trashcans protest.
Or are they rolling on their sides because,
free now, they love hysterically and laugh?
I love to laugh like that, and sometimes do,
when, having lost so much, it feels as if
there’s nothing left to lose and what I hold,
like emptiness, has to be let go, too.
The song that follows afterward is sad
but beautiful, and makes me think of home.
However Long It Takes
Let’s say there is a god to meet out there.
Who wouldn’t spend his life—effort, travail—
(however long it takes, or hard it is to step
over the threshold, down the crumbling stairs)
to find him where he lies? The birds
I see must worship gods. And those gods must
be feathery, divinely plumed. They must
be like a shadow underneath that darts.
Or could it be the image swans see, bowing
to feed from the pond’s bottom, tipped like that?
But ours should look like us, sewn to our hands
and heels, so when we stride along, we, too,
might understand and recognize the face,
or fall down on our knees, because we are afraid.
Adam Penna lives in East Moriches, New York, and teaches at Suffolk County Community College. These poems come from his newest collection, Talk of Happiness (S4N Books).He is the author of Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji (S4N Books), as well as the chapbooks The Love of a Sleeper and Small Fires, Little Flames (both Finishing Line Press). His poems have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Cider Press Review, The Basilica Review and Verse Daily. His is online at www.adampenna.com.