The Prodigal Son

By Spencer Reece b. 1963 Spencer Reece

“Fly at once!” he said. “All is discovered.” — Edward Gorey

In Miami, this May afternoon, I look up,
the sky hot, so hot, always, and heating up hotter —
how long I have loved this scene.
The clouds are white optimistic churches;
I cannot number them.
Herons, pelicans, and gulls glide like dreams
through cloud-portals, cloud-porticos, and cloud-porte-cochères
Giotto could have done with his passion for blues and dimensions.
Hard not to love a place always called by possibility.
Nearby, Cuba is singing and somewhere here
Richard Blanco is writing his poems.
As I enter the city,
my bishop walks with a cane towards our cathedral.

The sun shines on the people
and unites us in a delirium of light.
High above this bleached, scorched, fragile, groin-scented peninsula,
the birds track their insects and remain loyal to their nests.
I look up and I feel bliss building
as I did when my father read another book to me,
and another, the pages like wings.
There are moments of memorable patience in this world.
Airplanes advance towards Miami International,
booked with Jewish retirees and Cuban émigrés—
their descending engines disrupt the white-gloved illegal waiters
at the country clubs in Coral Gables, who deliver flan
to the ladies who have pulled their skin behind their ears like gum.

This is a place where few decisions are doubted.
On South Beach,
where everyone rearranges or expands their sexual parts,
there seems to be no life outside the physical and time
becomes a tricky thing here, spring looks like winter,
winter like spring, the scenes dense, shifting, shut —
and before you know it the rats have preached from the mangoes
and then chewed them to corpses.
And look, how the interior decorators
unroll their fresh bolts and wink-wink to new clients —
what would be considered frivolous anywhere else
is here pondered and coerced at great length.
The feminine gains strength.

Moving closer to the cathedral,
the sea presses the harbor, wanting to be loved,
pushing up the cruise ships with its muscles.
The sea says: “I am the sea.”
We have seen Cubans come atop dolphins’ backs here.
Mothers have drowned for their sons,
but the cool gray backs of the dolphins have buoyed their children to us,
numbed by the lullaby of sonar clicks.
The sea blesses the city the way mothers do —
forceful, pushy, ungraspable, persistent.
The black mangrove shoots take root on the porous, chalky rock,
building themselves up like steeples. Listen.
How the waves love what does not love them back.
Pedicurists buff the toenails of the sugar daddies in the Delano.
Lincoln Road refines its scarlet seductions.
Bees are sticky with tourism inside the motel rooms of the rose.
Red-orange petals from the Royal Poincianas tint the minutes
with flamboyance. The pink and white bottlebrush trees explode
with seeds. I will always love my time in this city, you might say
craziest of cities, delivering its youth in short-shorts
and Rollerblades with rainbow sweatbands.
City smelling of unzipped things. Cha cha cha! Cha cha cha!
I do not think the city will ever be mine.
Beautiful Spanish and broken English spoken everywhere.
How I love that sound,
for it is the sound of people making their way where they were not born.
Maids from Honduras push their carts,
stacking their wrapped soaps, counting them like children,
their cuticles sting with disinfectant,
perspiration staining their uniforms as they pray over the toilet seats they clean.

O Miami!
For a decade I did not speak to my parents.
Are you listening to me? I will not bore you with details.
Instead, I will tell you something new. Listen to me.
I was angry. But the reasons no longer interest me.
I take the liberty of assuming you approve of forgiveness,
stressing hardening gentleness as you do.
I speak to the bishop about my call and the sacraments,
we discuss blessings, absolutions, consecrations—
our work of the soul. The soul has no sex and I am relieved
to speak of a thing alive in the world that has no sex.

The bishop places a paperweight atop my reports on his desk,
our professional talk is measured by the silence of the dead
who are always flinging open their shutters,
religion being the work of the living and the dead,
the hope and release in the hearts of parents turning to their children
and the hearts of children turning to their parents —
all that business in life that remains unrehearsed.
Superior to obedient, we pray.
The laughter of the bathers
through the grillwork of the office window pleases me,
their movements rinsed in the baptism of the sea, the languorous sea.

The sky at the end of the city trembles.
Light and dust warm to cream to pink to lavender.
Miami, it has been a gorgeous day, indeed. Thank you.
How I love your decks, bridges, promenades, and balconies —
the paraphernalia of connection.
How fast the pastels encroach upon the edges.
I have a dinner engagement in Coral Gables at Books & Books
where I will see the poet Richard Blanco.
I hope he will tell me stories of his beloved, broken Cuba.
Nearly five o’clock now, and I am late.
When I arrive, Richard Blanco speaks of Cuba
as I had wished, and the city quiets all around him.
“If our bodies house our souls,” I think to myself,
“Then, Richard, poets are the interior decorators of the mind.”
Richard Blanco is saying something about going back,
his relatives singing poems in the fields. I listen.
Behind us, in the palmetum,
at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens,
the Elephant, Date, Malaysian, Kiwi, Coconut, and Royal palms
ask the city to remember their names with the insistence of priests.

Good-bye, Miami, good-bye.
Good-bye to the workers laying down the grids of the concrete embeds
on the high-rises, reinforcing their masculine nests,
gluing glass with their spermy compounds to stone and steel.
Good-bye to you, South Beach.
Let your rapturous sands darken to a deep grape color.
Let the polished feet of youth launch into their surprises and swaps.
Let the elements cool.
Good-bye, Richard Blanco, good-bye.
Today my candidacy for Holy Orders was affirmed.
I listen to the sea flatten.
Cuba pleads in the distance one more night.
Honduras waits on too many things to count.
No longer can I stand still.
Stars smooth the sea with their immaculate highways of long lights.

Mother and father,
forgive me my absence.
I will always be moving quietly toward you.

Source: Poetry (May 2012).

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This poem originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2012
 Spencer  Reece

Biography

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised in Minneapolis, poet Spencer Reece is the son of a pathologist and a nurse. He earned a BA at Wesleyan University, an MA at the University of York, an MTS at Harvard Divinity School, and an MDiv at Yale Divinity School. He was ordained in the Episcopal Church in 2011. Reece’s debut collection of poetry, The Clerk’s Tale (2004), was chosen for the Bakeless Poetry Prize by Louise Glück and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Religion, Christianity, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life, Class

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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