The Rainbow

By David Baker b. 1954 David Baker
If things were worse, this cursed rain
would soak me unto sickness,   
so Samuel Sewall might have   
written in his vespers journal.   
I have it on my writing desk   
inside. For three days I have   
labored with a saw and plane
and many boards to make my girl   
a swingset near her mother’s   
lilac shrubs, as rain has drizzled   
cold and meaningless. How   
coherent was his world of works   
and days, when Plentifull Rains
might connote a coming   
providence—so Sewall notes   
of Her Majesty’s Court, June   
the eighteenth, seventeen twelve.

            We are well satisfyed with the Layin out   
            of our Money—

as on the same day clearly he   
is mindful to remember that

            Just before Sunset was a very NOBLE Rainbow,   
            one foot was between the Windmill, and the   
            Lazar house; other, on Dorchester Neck.

How faithful is the mind in   
memory, connecting signs.   
As the body of the Word
of God strides His world, so   
Sam.'s determination to forge   
meaning from his life’s &c.   
The day before, just this:

            Great Heat, Much Rain.

Bulbs of lilac blooms burn like   
black lights in the twilight. Rain   
ascends in a mist where it has   
fallen to the rich new grass.   
It’s Sunday, nearly dark, and   
tomorrow I’m back in class to   
shape my working days. I think
of him who keeps the task of church   
and colony. He leans each night   
long over paper waiting
on his writing desk. She can’t wait,   
my girl, to play on her swings.

            Saw the New-raised meeting-house, 60. foot   
            long, 40. foot wide. Got to Cousin Woodbridge’s   
            a little before Sunset. Saw an appearance of   
            a Rainbow-Colour about the bigness of a piece   
            of Timber one foot square and four foot long.   
            When I had turn ’d from it, Somebody, call’d   
            to me to look on the Sight; and then it was   
            dilated like an Ensign with several bars in it.   
            Saw my daughter Judith.

It’s what we connect. It’s how   
we join each thing with care. If I   
soap a screw to drive it smoother,   
if I run the ripsaw straight
against the wood grain down the meat   
of my thumb, if the brackets hold,   
if swivels keep the swings aligned,   
it’s because my father passed   
a memory of such things to me.   
Now I only work to make a toy.   
My colleagues call that irony.   
(Our meager making wants to   
theorize each life we touch to death.)   
If things were worse, I don’t know if   
I could make a living with my hands.
If things were worse than that, I could.

            The Rainbow was very bright, and the Reflection   
            of it caused another faint Rainbow to the   
            westward of it. For the entire Compleateness   
            of it, throughout the whole Arch, and for its   
            duration, the like has been rarely seen. The   
            middle parts were discontinued for a while; but   
            the former Integrity and Splendor were quickly   
            Recovered. I hope this is a sure Token that
            CHRIST Remembers his Covenant, and that He will   
            make haste to prepare for them a City that has   
            foundations, whose Builder and Maker is GOD.

My father circles in his
anger now. A stroke like lightning   
shot his carotid artery one day.   
He forgets himself. I’m worried   
that my daughter may recall   
my temper only, or my
little soul, my careless way
of cutting others down. The rage
for meaning makes us look for things   
in other things, makes us hope   
we see the future when we barely   
see the day. I’ve beheld my girl   
angry, impatient with the smallest   
cause, cruel beyond her years.

            Mrs. Sarah Banister, widow, dyes between 3   
            and 4 P.M., being drown’d with Dropsie.
            News comes that Capt. Carver is Taken by two   
            Privateers. Just as had written this I went to look   
            of the Rain at my East-Chamber window, and   
            saw a perfect Rainbow. I think the setting of   
            the Sun caus’d its Disappearance. Laus Deo.

I put one good board beside   
another and screw them down—so   
things won’t come apart, so she   
won’t fall. I think we wish too hard   
for sense when what we want   
is wonder, swinging on a toy.   
I love the life we’ve made despite   
our carelessness. I love the care.

            Great rain with Thunder. Mr. Wadsworth   
            preaches: Work out your Salvation with Fear.

One night later, one more entry,   
so Sewall becomes his vision.

            Last night I dreamed that I had my daughter   
            Hirst in a little Closet to pray with her;   
            and of a sudden she was gon, I could not   
            tell how; although the Closet was so small,
            and not Cumber’d with Chairs or Shelves,   
            I was much affected with it when I waked.

The mind is faithful in its
memory—connecting signs,   
it makes a memory
to connect to what it needs.   
The body will forget us all   
anyway, in time, as it forgets   
its breath, and how to live,   
how to forgive. I keep this   
story close whenever I grieve   
or fear, growing cold. A father
and his child wait through a storm.   
Great rain with Thunder. Fear has   
drenched the child. (Is this my father,   
or me, my girl, or someone   
in a book? I don’t remember.   
Forgetfulness has taken part   
of me already—besides,
it doesn’t matter.) The child cries,   
I’m scared, to which the father   
whispers, holding on, Don’t worry,   
little one. I'll stay with you until   
it’s over. It’s what he means by

            Rainbow in the evening.

NOTES: Despite the fury and indictment in his public tracts and sermons, the American Puritan minister Samuel Sewall could be tender, confessional, even self-doubting in his nightly diary, which he kept from 1673 until three months before his death in 1729. No detail was too small for Sewall’s attentions, since any occurrence might yield God’s intents and purposes. Even the weather, one of Sewall’s favorite notations, was a holy language to be read by devout souls.

David Baker, “The Rainbow” from Changeable Thunder. Copyright © 2001 by David Baker. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Arkansas Press, www.uapress.com.

Source: Changeable Thunder (University of Arkansas Press, 2001)

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Poet David Baker b. 1954

Subjects Religion, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Nature, Faith & Doubt, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Christianity, Weather, God & the Divine

 David  Baker

Biography

Though he is known primarily as a poet of the Midwest, David Baker was born in Bangor, Maine in 1954. He spent his childhood in Missouri and attended Central Missouri State University before receiving his PhD from the University of Utah. He has won fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, the Pushcart Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Currently a Professor of English . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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