Enlightenment as Salvation
from Five Cantos on Enlightenmenet
The fire had worked its local menace,
The waiter and the boat rental manager
Had stories about how close the disaster
Had come this time, about the heroism of the fighters
And the ordinary evil of the arsonist
Who was out on bond for burning a barn.
We were camping not far from Lake Hemet.
The manager brought us to a corner
With a map of the lake and showed us where
We might find two bald eagles alighting
Or launching out from a wood along the lakeside.
They raise their young here, he said,
Because food is plentiful in the lake,
But there is not enough for more than two adults
And so, when it is time, you can find them
Chasing off their offspring over the water,
Insisting with wing and talon that their parenting
Work is over. Are they strangers, then?
I was not adept at motoring the boat
Out of the inlet through a shallow throat
Of water and into the manmade lake.
It took a few tries. I think sometimes of
My great grandfathers—less often
Of my great grandmothers and the women
In my family tree from an age yet older than theirs.
Did they ever imagine me, the Irish Catholic
Orphan from New Jersey and the German-born
Mother of eight in a Cincinnati ghetto?
Did they have hopes that I would be—
A doctor? A bishop? The mayor of a nearby town?
A father, perhaps? Well, I am a decent person
And in every respect a grown man.
I find it hard to think of myself chasing anyone off
The way those eagles have to do.
But I want no part anymore of the religion
They promulgated, my great grandmothers,
Zealously or dutifully or both.
I am afraid that even citizenship among the saved
Mostly feels to me like a flare thrown
On a forest road, from a car in which,
According to eyewitness reports,
There is either one person, or there are two.
Brian Glaser teaches at Chapman University in Orange, California. His first book of poetry, The Sacred Heart, is forthcoming at the end of 2018 from Aldrich Press.