The Rainbow

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)
More Poems by David Baker