by Mark Doty
Holding even flowers subject
to the principle of use,
the Shakers invented
the notion of packaged seeds
and a steam-powered
distiller for rosewater.
They uncluttered rooms
till space filled
with Universal Light—
white walls, a chest, a chair
hung on pegs beside a broom
so perfect in its simplicity
as to become a pure channel:
there was nothing in those lines
to impede the flow
of the divine, no ornament
to distract the mind from Love.
Work, Ann Lee said, as though
you had a thousand years to live;
thus the tiny stitches
in a sister’s cotton cap, the exact lid
of a pine box. Pestered
by holy doves delivering
gifts—exotic telegrams of fruit,
flower and verse—Mother Ann danced
to come to terms with the demands
of angels. In one print
the brothers and sisters
in their separate portions of the room
thunder on the polished floorboards.
They swept clean. Clear
the excess, they knew,
and light will pour in
as in certain American landscapes
where light itself occupies space,
whole regions of luminosity.
Seeing the turn of things
and unwilling to propagate,
they were swept away.
four elderly sisters,
live at Sabbathday Lake;
the brothers are twenty years gone.
In October their grapes yield,
suspended from the arbor
as if to recall a paradise of ease
where we had only to look upward
to be fed, and the apple trees
hold out their thousands of small victories,
having managed both to contain light
and to bear.
PHOTO: Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, 707 Shaker Rd, New Gloucester, Maine. Photo by Jamie Ribisi-Braley, used by permission.
NOTE: Learn more about the Shakers at nps.com.