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The heads of maples filling in above,
She sets out on her daylight wanderings,
Some tarnished pennies stored in one old glove,
She grips to feel its weight as her arm swings.

A jealous grip perhaps—and yet she’s skipping
And humming notes that spread beyond all tune,
Her dress like floating clouds through green fields slipping,
And eyes as brightening as a summer moon.

Along her way, she stops, from time to time,
To draw a penny from its woolen sack;
As if to plant the earth with what’s sublime
She’ll press it down within a sidewalk crack.


The guests expected and the kitchen warm
With ham and bubbling green bean casserole,
The woman turned and, taking up his arm,
Reminded him the table would be full.

She pressed the near end firmly to her side,
While he took hold and pulled upon the far,
To spread the surface outward on its slide
And make room for the leaf with inlaid star.

But as the cherry top was drawn apart,
They saw the grime of ancient apple sauce
And other seeping things, whose cunning art
Had hid their moldering as a grove does moss.


All fissures that run through our sunlit visions;
All chips in polished marble, nicks in paint;
All hints that what seems solid hides divisions
And every perfect surface is a feint;

All places out of reach beneath the stove,
Where ballpoint pens or uncooked rice has rolled;
Each pause in speech that opens like a cove
Between the easily said and the untold;

All darkness that’s as painful as the light
To see and not see with the pulsing eye;
We feel your presences beyond our sight
And hear your breath beneath the May wind’s cry.

Photo by Emilio Garcia on Unsplash

James Matthew Wilson

James Matthew Wilson has published ten books, including, most recently, The Strangeness of the Good (Angelico, 2020). He directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Saint Thomas, is Poet-in-Residence of the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Liturgy, and serves as poetry editor of Modern Age magazine and as editor of Colosseum Books.

One Comment

  • Travis West says:

    What a lovely poem, carrying us through several images or movements to the table and beyond, to a sort of vision that Wendell Berry described as a way of seeing “what unsighted hope believes.” I loved the image near the end of the first section as the girl “plants pennies” in the sidewalk cracks — that’s how Annie Dillard described it in an opening chapter of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Did her story impact your poem there? It helped provide the closing image to my essay here on RJ just published this week, titled Cosmic Companionship! Anyhow, thanks for sharing this lovely poem with us.