Yesterday I shared D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Song of a Man Who Who Has Come Through,” which ends with strange angels at the door (“Admit them, admit them.”). It brought to mind these ethereal beings I’ve given little thought to since childhood, when I was a bit leery about the topic of guardian angels watching every move we make.
Today I thought I’d dig around for other poets’ thoughts on these winged dreams slash nightmares. I expected the gamut, and I got it. In winged spades. Here’s three strange ones. Which do you admit through the door—one, two, or all three? And what if you had to write a poem about an angel. Would it be good, evil, or indifferent?
“Women Who Love Angels”
by Judith Ortiz Cofer
They are thin
and rarely marry, living out
their long lives
in spacious rooms, French doors
giving view to formal gardens
where aromatic flowers
grow in profusion.
They play their pianos
in the late afternoon
tilting their heads
at a gracious angle
as if listening
to notes pitched above
the human range.
Age makes them translucent;
each palpitation of their hearts
visible at temple or neck.
When they die, it’s in their sleep,
their spirits shaking gently loose
from a hostess too well bred
by Linda Pastan
Are you tired of angels?
I am tired of angels,
of how their great wings
rustle open the way a curtain opens
on a play I have no wish to see.
I am tired of their milky robes,
their star-infested sashes,
of their perfect fingernails
translucent as shells
from which the souls
of tiny creatures have already fled.
Remember Lucifer, I want to tell them,
his crumpled bat wings
nose-diving from grace.
But they would simply laugh
with the watery sound a harp makes
cascading through bars of music.
Or they would sing to me in
my mother’s lost voice,
extracting all the promises
I made to her but couldn’t keep.
by Russell Edson
They have little use. They are best as objects of torment.
No government cares what you do with them.
Like birds, and yet so human . . .
They mate by briefly looking at the other.
Their eggs are like white jellybeans.
Sometimes they have been said to inspire a man to do more with his life than he might have.
But what is there for a man to do with his life?
. . . They burn beautifully with a blue flame.
When they cry out it is like the screech of a tiny hinge; the cry of a bat. No one hears it . . .
One thought on “Angels We Haven’t Heard on High”
A poem by the late, great Tony Hoagland:
On two occasions in the past twelve months
I have failed, when someone at a party
spoke of him with a dismissive scorn,
to stand up for D. H. Lawrence,
a man who burned like an acetylene torch
from one end to the other of his life.
These individuals, whose relationship to literature
is approximately that of a tree shredder
to stands of old-growth forest,
these people leaned back in their chairs,
bellies full of dry white wine and the ovum of some foreign fish,
and casually dropped his name
the way pygmies with their little poison spears
strut around the carcass of a fallen elephant.
“O Elephant,” they say,
“you are not so big and brave today!”
It’s a bad day when people speak of their superiors
with a contempt they haven’t earned,
and it’s a sorry thing when certain other people
don’t defend the great dead ones
who have opened up the world before them.
And though, in the catalogue of my betrayals,
this is a fairly minor entry,
I resolve, if the occasion should recur,
to uncheck my tongue and say, “I love the spectacle
of maggots condescending to a corpse,”
or, “You should be so lucky in your brainy, bloodless life
as to deserve to lift
just one of D. H. Lawrence’s urine samples
to your arid psychobiographic
Or maybe I’ll just take the shortcut
between the spirit and the flesh,
and punch someone in the face,
because human beings haven’t come that far
in their effort to subdue the body,
and we still walk around like zombies
in our dying, burning world,
able to do little more
than fight, and fuck, and crow,
something Lawrence wrote about
in such a manner
as to make us seem magnificent.