God, the Maker of the Bed, and the Painter




In his first book of poems, Nepo pursued the juncture of that in us which struggles to create and that in us which surfaces as spirit. Many of the poems were first published in journals across the country and abroad. The book itself won the 1987 Ithaca House Prize. From the beginning, Nepo’s poetry has been characterized as unclassifiable, spirited, and penetrating. His honest voice keeps reaching through the tangle of human themes we suffer.


To Live Out the Gift

(For Grandma)

In the sun, in the yard
between the brick towers
where orderlies eat hardrolls
and yawn; in the sun
with her rubber brake on
and her footplates heating;
in the sun, for the first time
in seven months, she beams back
to the fresh earth she has not yet forgotten.

In the sun, in the yard
of the facility, she says,
the warm breeze brushing her face,
"I want to go home."
I wheel her around.
She says the trees are beautiful,
the clouds are beautiful.
She says the pansies and stray
wounded hungry cats
are beautiful.
She thinks the dirty bricks
are beautiful
as she inhales the light
and sighs, "Why can't I go home?"

Her white hair is swept in a wave
and she is healing in the sun,
and I start to feel
we are home.

She closes her eyes
and the heat is laced with bees
and the warmth and buzz drape
her strong near-century lids
and she smiles, then looks beyond the garden
and says, with a laugh, "Where are we?"

I start to retrace the day,
to frame her in, but the sun
like a knell of God overwhelms us,
and I rub the wind from her face.

She takes my hand, washing it
in the dish of air between us,
and says, serenely,
"I don't know where we are."
And I confess,
all organs of memory
in my throat,
"Neither do I."


My Constant Dream

Some are born to yes
and some to no.

Still, each has one spot
without trace or print
from which the rest
blossoms like a storm

and if you feel almost in love,
if you wait for some kiss
to put the future in your eyes,

if you relive your cuts
like an iron to a crease,
tell me, please:

how come the cost of love
lingers, a smoke that films the mind?

I fear, if not used up, our hearts
will dry in our bodies, like oceanless fish
breaded in the sand.


“What I admire in this work is Nepo’s willingness to pursue with such stylish intensity the content of his poems, poems that express themselves with a kind of warm and thoughtful honesty. I’m drawn to the author’s need for “subject matter,” the curiosity that sends him with an open mind into the field. The range—the variety—of his subjects makes this first collection one of the most interesting I’ve come across in the past few years.”
Daniel Halpern, Ecco Press

“Mark Nepo is a poet of passion and scope. His poems look deeply into a visionary world, and come back to read us the central myths of our psyches, our culture and our history. Some ring with the authentic tone of high lyric poetry; others, particularly the title poem, have the narrative grip of epic legend. This book shows more than promise. It shows a strong poetic voice and a sure hand.”
Judith Johnson, Yale Prize Winner

“The title poem of Mark Nepo’s new book, “God, The Maker of the Bed, And The Painter,” is a stunning accomplishment. Ben Jonson and the Scots poet William Drummond, Lazaruslike, spring into life on these remarkable pages.”
Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer Prize Winner

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