"The Hermit" and "The Fool" by Jeff McAlister

"The Hermit" is followed by "The Fool." Both poems conjure tarot images. The hermit is seeker (a lantern) and penitent; images of the sleeping village at night, a primordial tree, and the search that unveils layers of identity and meaning. The fool "steps out," but to discover pages of the catalogue of the sensible missing, and naught to find beneath an "inexorably yellowed sky."

Jeff McAlister is a career American poet. The poems are reprinted from Prairie Schooner, vol. 83, no. 4, Winter 2009, pages 128-130.

The Hermit, by Jeff McAlister

As though the nights here hover, as though
to cover other nights behind them, every word

is the veil for another word, every step
the future of another step: a lantern,

hung from the hand, just the hint
of another lantern, and the hand, too

is the memory of an older hand, itself
a memory, perhaps, of a sculptor's hand,

or a penitent's. For what is work
if not the effort to atone? Each step

is the echo of the next steps, the village
asleep with all the echoes, all the names

that hide behind other names. There is the field
that covers up another field in which a life

was taken and covered with other, lesser lives.
The tree that marks the hovering memory

of another tree. As though the night hovers,
as though a name is memory enough for itself.

The Fool, by Jeff McAlister

Step out: perennials seething, something
flickering in the underbrush: a boat breaks

through the ice, choking toward a city
floating somewhere past what you can see

in the haze. But what could yield itself,
numinous: what shimmer through all

the palpable clutter: the threadbare cloth
you hold, the knotted wood over which

you stretch it? There are pages missing
in the catalogue of the sensible world, pages

gone from its sequel -— no matter. Something
walks through these streets narrower than God,

something balanced, no attention called to itself
in the late snow fallen on the budding dogwoods.

Step out: what have you missed in this expanse
of bodies yearning for the minutest touch,

of shifting eyes, telephone numbers, temporary
addresses? So many psalms, unwritten,

but opened, lined up to greet you, as though
to yield is to discover: at first, the road

empty under an inexorably yellowed sky.
There's nothing more to welcome, or to gain.