Monday, July 23, 2012


1.  The Midnight Cry
2.  Invitation to Eden
3.  Wild Raspberries


         The Midnight Cry

Out of the upstate wilderness
A prophet named Miller, a farmer
After years of Bible study
And complex computations
Came forth and preached the Word:
“The world is coming to an end
In A.D. 1843
At midnight on April 23.

“Christ will come in glory in the heavens
And the righteous, rising without wrinkle
Shall soar like angels through the air
And live forever
While earth and the wicked burn.

In Gotham this preaching
Caused a great stir.
While scholars argued,
Thousands scoffed but hundreds believed
Wept, watched and waited.
To the soon Coming
Tobacco and snuff boxes
Were immolated

And fine ladies
Eager to rise without wrinkle
Forsook their lace, abandoned their toilettes
Amid a great gathering in of believers
Especially debtors
Since preachers urged the canceling of debts.

Yet even the zealous debated:
Should one still buy and sell
Haul, plant, bake, sew buttons
Hammer nails or not?
And were the date and time so certain?
“At midnight or thereabouts,” said some;
“At midnight,” warned precisians, “on the dot.”

April 23, foggy and overcast
Came and went
The world unscorched
God’s wrath unspent.

From upstate
Prophet Miller conceded
The first date ill reckoned:
“Look ye now to 1844
And the true date, October 22!”

A blue comet trailing fire
Scorched the sky
Strange rays flashed about the sun
And crosses lit the heavens
Till even Broadway dandies
Bowery sports
Cynics, the lewd and the learned
Were at sixes and sevens.

On Delancey Street a devout man, Brother Stone
Having gathered unto himself a congregation
Held meetings in a hall
Preached and prayed, depicting
Glory and incineration

Till converts, assailed by prophecies
Sermons, tracts and meteoric showers,
Cast upon the floor and trampled there
Gold safety pins
False teeth and artificial flowers.

Shoemakers gave away their shoes
Milliners their bonnets
Vendors their cakes and ices;
In shop windows signs appeared:
“Closed until the Coming!”
“Muslin for Ascension robes
At reduced prices.”

Here and there
A crazed few, having donned
Long white flowing robes
Deemed fit for angels,
Climbed steeples and barn roofs, unable
The last months to endure,
And leaping to meet their Savior
Broke their necks or landed in manure.

These excesses
Brother Stone deplored:
“When the Day comes,
Going to a high place, prayerfully
Await the Lord.”

Yet even as he spoke to his flock
Flames leaped outside a window
And the sky burst.
“He comes!” they cried.
“We’re sainted!”
At once
A dozen ladies gasped,
“Receive me, Lord!” and fainted

While the panicky brethren
Surged out doors and windows, some
In gowns and sandals,
To the guffaws of onlookers,
Local rowdies having lit
A blaze of shavings
And set off Roman candles.

Hardly had this flurry died
When the Last Day was upon them:
In cemeteries, on hilltops
Or by the hearth or on the roof at home
The faithful waited
Robed, Bible in hand, prayer in heart
Of the True Midnight Cry
Looking to the East to see the Bridegroom
In a split sky.

Past midnight
With the Bridegroom lacking
And the wicked and the world intact,
Hope gone,
Again they sighed, murmured
Wept till dawn.

Take the jeers of infidels in stride
But this was cruel
To be mocked savagely by those
One thought God’s fuel.

“Brethren,” said Brother Stone
On the next Sabbath
To a shrunken congregation,
“We were misled by zeal sublime;
Ignore the world
Work, pray, presume not;
God comes in His own time.”

Heeding him
Some packed away their robes
Against the next True Coming;
Some cut them up for curtains;
Some burned them in chagrin
And flaunting
Gold teeth and safety pins and lace,
Lapsed in sin.

But for months and even years thereafter
At intervals a few
Scorning Babylon, their zeal unsated,
Toward midnight tiptoed out
Keen in love, rich in hope
Eyed the East, and waited.

© 2012  Clifford Browder


            Invitation to Eden

The citizens of Gotham, being vexed
By brick and plaster dust, their nerves
And eardrums frayed
By traffic screeches and the moil of multitudes
Blasts, hammerings, hewings
And the grind of trade

Cried out for air and greenery. 
Therefore the city fathers
Acquired vast tracts of land
Northward from the city: 
A shanty-blotched terrain
Of swamp and scrub with steeps
Of jutting rock
And rag gatherers and pig keepers hunched away
Among cinder piles, brickbats and rubbish heaps

Hideous to behold. 
To redeem this site
The City Council commissioned
Messrs. Olmsted & Vaux
Landscapers extraordinaire, apostles
Of art and artifice
To create
A people’s park and pleasure garden worthy
Of a great metropolis.

At their command
Squatters were expelled
Bone boilers driven out
Open sewers abated
Shanties knocked down
And Celtic piggeries

The spongy mire was drained
Marsh smells whiffled away
Swamp waters gathered into ponds.
“Let rude outcroppings,” said Mr. Olmsted,
“Be clothed with wisteria and periwinkle.”
“Let streams,” said Mr. Vaux,
“Scant down stony slopes
With a lyric tinkle.”

“Let there be,” said the one,
“Black-faced Southdown sheep
In a field free
Of thorn and nettle.”
“And a carriage drive,” said the other,
“Graveled and raked, then sprinkled
That the dust may settle.”

“But into these green precincts,” they enjoined,
“Shall come no hearse or wagon
Or commercial rig. 
The grass shall not be trodden
(Save where signs say COMMON)
Nor flower picked
Nor leaf nor fruit nor twig.

“From the urban Arcadia
Shall be banned all games of chance
Potations of intemperance
Dogs, jugglers, brawlers
Fast drivers
And hurdy-gurdy men. 
Nor shall the cry of the huckster
Rasp through glade or glen!”

So they decreed. 
Over months and years
The land was delved and daintied
Till in leafy bosques and dells
Thrushes fluted
Through a delicate gloom
While on sunlit plazas
Fountains effervesced
A skyward spume. 

Planted oaks grew sturdy,
Willows suppled and elms arched
Where paths abutted.
On soggy brooksides
The dog-toothed violet bloomed.
Swans glided, pea fowl strutted.

Rustic bridges they decreed
And nooks and walkways
For either gender
But for the softer sex
At discreet sites
Comfort cottages and a restaurant
With airy provender.

Proclaimed Messrs. Olmsted & Vaux: 
“Here reigns tranquility
And the sweet wilding brood of Nature. 
Let mothers and nursemaids flock
With their charge of little ones. 
Let the banker come from his counting house
And humble artisans

“And from sunless tenements, the poor
To find boon and balm
Uplifted in mind and body
By a twiggy calm.

“Here for all citizens
Is strife’s surcease. 
Here is Eden, here is peace.”

This paradise
Met swift acclaim. 
Shedding toil and worry
By foot, hoof, and wheel
Gotham came.

     © 2012  Clifford Browder


                                          Wild Raspberries

Under a scorching sun
Through the wet, sucking heat of July
Their tight red-hairy jackets
Grow slowly
Then split, revealing
Green fruit that mellowing
To deep red, plumps and glistens
And when touched, tumbles
Into my stained and sticky fingers
If unripe, a tartness, but if ripe
A burst of sweetness, joy.

One pays a price.
As I reach
Deep into the bramble, deeper
Lured by juicy clusters,
Their bristling, thorned stems
And spined leaves scratch my skin.
Scrambled over
By daddy-long-legs, spiders, ants
And buzzed by wasps,
I brush the ivy’s venom,
Risk a blistering itch.

Having plundered in and feasted
I yank, twist back out
Fighting their clinging branches
And hooked twigs,
My shirt torn,
My boots clumped with burrs.

Plucked, each one leaves
In the trampled briar
A red, orange-centered star.
Marveling at the white of their underleaves
I lick my looting fingers
And bleeding crosshatched arms;
Their seeds clog my teeth.
Lips smeared, I savor
Their sweet
Yet bitter blood-tinged juice.

© 2012  Clifford Browder