From the acclaimed poet/monk’s 2003 collection Swift, Lord, You Are Not, published when he was 82.
(“I will walk the way of perfection.” Psalm 101:2)
I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.
As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you
It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green
Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its
Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can’t be won, concedes the
I’ve handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo’s radiant David
the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
Over the past eight years or so, Mockingbird contributors have said quite a lot about the works of Thornton Niven Wilder. His contributions to the idea of a theo-poetic approach to the Gospel, i.e., an approach that avoids didacticism by employing literary archetypes to illustrate gospel themes, are well documented on this site. For a couple of examples, read this from Wilder himself, or this from Paul Zahl. Wilder’s Angel that Troubled the Waters is a tour de force in such terms, and it illustrates what this site is usually trying to do: use an oblique approach to get in past the heart’s defenses, because a didactic frontal…
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The following poem evokes AA’s fourth step (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”) and the gravity of apologies. This is from Kaveh Akbar’s chapbook/collection, Portrait of the Alcoholic.
Personal Inventory: Fearless (Temporis Fila)
“I know scarcely one feature by which man can be distinguished from apes, if it be not that all the apes have a gap between their fangs and their other teeth.”
– Carolus Linnaeus
A gap, then,
a slot for fare.
I used my arms to learn two,
my fingers to learn ten.
My grandfather kept an atlas so old
there was a blank spot in the middle of Africa.
I knew a girl…
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This poem by Christian Wiman was recently published in America Magazine. His newest collection, Hammer is the Prayer (such a cool title), is available now.
It was the flash of black among the yellow billion.
It was the green chink on the chapel’s sphere.
It was some rust or recalcitrance in us
by which we were by the grace of pain more here.
It was you, me, fall and fallen light.
It was that kind of imperfection
through which infinity wounds the finite.
We’ve had numerous requests to post this poem on the site, since it first appeared in the Church Issue of The Mockingbird. You can see why:
From the Man in Black’s brand new collection of found poems.
If anybody made a movie out of my life
I wouldn’t like it, but I’d watch it twice
If they halfway tried to do it right
There’d be forty screenwriters workin’ day and nite
They’d need a research team from Uncle Sam
And go from David Allan Coe to Billy Graham
It would run ten days in the final cut
And that would mean leaving out the gossip smut
And I do request for my children’s sake
Don’t ever let ’em do a new re-make
The thing I’m sayin’ is, don’t you see,
Don’t make a movie ’bout me
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Beloved, we are always in the wrong,
Handling so clumsily our stupid lives,
Suffering too little or too long,
Too careful even in our selfish loves:
The decorative manias we obey
Die in grimaces round us every day,
Yet through their tohu-bohu comes a voice
Which utters an absurd command – Rejoice.
Rejoice. What talent for the makeshift thought
A living corpus out of odds and ends?
What pedagogic patience taught
Preoccupied and savage elements
To dance into a segregated charm?
Who showed the whirlwind how to be an arm,
And gardened from the wilderness of space
The sensual properties of one dear face?
Rejoice, dear love, in Love’s peremptory word;
All chance, all love, all logic, you and I,
Exist by grace of the Absurd,
And without conscious artifice we die:
O, lest we manufacture in our flesh
The lie of our divinity afresh,
Describe round our chaotic malice now,
The arbitrary circle of a vow.
Of 385 varieties, to make the simplest
all you need are two sticks:
one vertical; the other, horizontal.
Call one time; one, space or
life—death, good—evil, male—female.
You choose. Any polarity will do
as long as the cross-piece cuts across
the one upright. Now, it’s a human form
with arms outstretched. Rub them together.
A couple of sparks, a few more,
a flash of light, a slow increase in heat,
and radiating around you: uncontainable fire.
Here is the first part in a series of poems entitled “The Galilee Hitch-Hiker” by Richard Brautigan. Brautigan, known for his dark humor and wildly imaginative metaphors, lived a highly stylized life racked with despair and alcoholism, and–though his writing often seemed silly–he understood the way of the cross, as evidenced by the twist in the following poem. I was reminded of Jesus’ message to Herod in Luke 13:
Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.
“The Galilee Hitch-Hiker”
by Richard Brautigan
driving a Model A
He picked up a
Jesus who had
been standing among
a school of fish,
pieces of bread.
“Where are you
into the front
out of this world!”
“I’ll go with you
as far as
“I have a
at the carnival
there, and I
must not be
This one comes to us from friend and contributor Lindsey Hepler:
In her recent book about habit formation, Gretchen Rubin describes four types of people: obligers, rebels, upholders, and questioners. Without ever taking her short quiz, I already know which type I am: an upholder, through and through. Upholders, Rubin says, respond readily to outer and inner expectations. Basically, we are rule followers and rule lovers.
On the positive side, being an upholder often contributes to success in school, where being a good rule follower is essentially seen as the same thing as being a smart/gifted child. An adult tells us what…
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From the Polish master’s final volume of poetry, Second Space, brought to mind via Benjamin Self’s truly exquisite essay on the Impertinence of Beauty, ht KW:
I was not made to live anywhere except in Paradise.
Such, simply, was my genetic inadaptation.
Here on earth every prick of a rose-thorn changed into a wound.
whenever the sun hid behind a cloud, I grieved.
I pretended to work like others from morning to evening,
but I was absent, dedicated to invisible countries.
For solace I escaped to city parks, there to observe
and faithfully describe flowers and trees, but they changed,
under my hand, into the gardens of Paradise.
I have not loved a woman with my five senses.
I only wanted from her my sister, from before the banishment.
And I respected religion, for on this earth of pain
it was a funereal and a propitiatory song.
Poems, with their frustrations, are apt oblations.
See: A failure of sound in line one,
And two. And now three.
A fitting clang for a clanging land:
One-third too much logic,
Savagely lucid, like a siren.
Going from Jericho to Jerusalem to family dinner,
In a beat-up Buick, taillight out. He groans,
Pierced in his side, for his wide-set nose.
The sound of hawking CDs on the corner, is
The sound of He’s gotta gun, is
The sound of tap tap tap, is
The sound of Oh my God, is
A black teenage boy sobs at a podium.
A young black woman sobs at a podium.
A black police chief…
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