Sunday Poem

Thinking About Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, Mártir

Joined by Emily Dickinson, Muriel Rukeyser, and Theodore Roethke

San Manuel . .  . the priest who kept
his poor parish in the faith
burnished their bright hope of heaven
(hope is a thing with feathers)

it is best not to think these days
about what . .  . what the newspapers report so reasonably
. .  . (I lived in the first century of world wars,
. .  . most days I was more or less insane)

today’s weather . .  . an endless rain of feathers

when the passenger pigeon . .  . now extinct
had not yet been converted
to fashion . .  . slaughtered . .  . its plumage plucked
for the elegant hats of American women
. .  . (those catlike immaculate
. .  . . .  . creatures for whom the world works)

when the migrating flocks still passed
overhead . .  . a billion strong . .  . the farmers said
bird lime turned the woods white
the sky was dark for a week

And San Manuel? Late in the story we learn
he did not believe in the hope
he kept alive . .  . believing as he did
(like his author) in the sustaining power
of fiction

by Elenor Wilner
Poetry Magazine, 2006