Mayapple Press, 2014
The poems in Without Angels watch the world for evidence that the angelic orders—once positioned just above humankind in the Great Chain of Being—maintain a presence among us still. Angels move through these poems in both ancient and contemporary dress, some attested to by witnesses who offer a halting testimony, some speaking for themselves, others woven so subtly into the fabric of the world as to go unnoticed.
In Part I, two angels play at Chutes and Ladders; a crated marble angel contemplates her fate in the courtyard of a cathedral; a single-winged angel hitchhikes a desert highway near the base where the first atomic bombs were assembled; an imprisoned angel undergoes interrogation and torture. Although their purpose remains unclear, these angels seem to study us, to wish to understand and care for us, although in Our Better Angels, one of their kind concludes that “it may be impossible to love you.” As for us, if we yearn for something akin to, yet larger than ourselves, we also yearn for proof; in Traits of the Angels we’re told it is only a myth that “you can read them in the dark.”
In Part II, specific angels pursue specific missions: an angel delivers a message to Lot or conducts the corpse of Adam to a final rest; a guardian angel out of childhood’s lost faith intervenes to prevent a suicide; art historical angels appear in paintings and sculpture gardens. Recent incarnations, too, are represented: flight attendant angels, angel fish, angels of the missing outside the funeral home. In one poem, all that remains of the angels are cocoons left hanging in the branches of trees. Even in a poem filled with our culture’s substitutes for the angels—light houses, sonar, satellites—wing-shaped stanzas suggest the angels have not left us entirely on our own.
Perhaps if we kept a closer watch? Spade-foot toads, after all, are everywhere hidden on the floor of Death Valley. If toads, then angels? Perhaps not. But mightn’t it be best to tread softly, aware “of what a mis-step among them might cost us”?