From Orion Magazine’s celebration of poetry month.
When the time’s toxins
have seeped into every cell
and like a salted plot
from which all rain, all green, are gone
I and life are leached
somehow a seed
sprouts the instant
I acknowledge it:
little weedy hardy would-be
while deep within
roots like talons
are taking hold again
of this our only earth.
To know just how He suffered — would be dear —
To know if any Human eyes were near
To whom He could entrust His wavering gaze —
Until it settle broad — on Paradise —
To know if He was patient — part content —
Was Dying as He thought — or different —
Was it a pleasant Day to die —
And did the Sunshine face his way —
What was His furthest mind — Of Home — or God —
Or what the Distant say —
At news that He ceased Human Nature
Such a Day —
And Wishes — Had He Any —
Just His Sigh — Accented —
Had been legible — to Me —
And was He Confident until
Ill fluttered out — in Everlasting Well —
And if He spoke — What name was Best —
What One broke off with
At the Drowsiest —
Was He afraid — or tranquil —
Might He know
How Conscious Consciousness — could grow —
Till Love that was — and Love too best to be —
Meet — and the Junction be Eternity
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
From his absolutely mandatory collection from last year, Idiot Psalms:
The breakfast was adequate, the fast
itself sub-par. We gluttons, having
modified our habits only somewhat
within the looming Lenten dark, failed
quite to shake our thick despair, an air
that clamped the heart, made moot the prayer.
As dim disciples having seen the light,
we supplied to it an unrelenting gloom.
Wipe your chin. I’m dying here
in Omaha, amid the flat, surrounded
by the beefy, land-locked generations,
the river, and the river’s rancid shore.
O what I wouldn’t give for a lifting,
cool salt breeze, a beach, a Labrador.
From his new collection of poems, Once in the West.
Daily higher the ivy dies,
Leaf by leaf subsiding white
Like a secret that seems to rise
Through vein and vine up to his eyes
And the green of what remains.
In spite of books and better light,
In spite of air and what friends say,
A rare arrested day, brief shoots,
In spite of all he cuts away:
From the ground up to the shelf,
From the leaves into the roots,
In spite of everything he tries,
Utterly the ivy tells itself.
1. Where to start with a hierarchy of most severe ‘little-l law’ in ‘secular’ society? We could start with body image, health, having cool experiences, and the like, but prosperity honestly takes the cake. And among the people who have already checked that box, it’s fast becoming political correctness. Political correctness is important, but its ascendant, uncompromising severity and occasional use as a class-code leads to a totalization which is, to say the least, in tension with the traditional (L/l)iberal ideal of discourse. Cue Camille Paglia, who had some fantastic things to say in America Magazine (Jesuits) about the backslide of feminism and…
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This man will be our featured poet for Issue 4, with two new, unpublished works.
They were talking to him about resurrection, about law,
about the suffering ahead.
They were talking as if to remind him who he was and
who they were. He was not
Like his three friends watching a little way off, not like
At the foot of the hill. A gray-green thunderhead massed
from the sea
And God spoke from it and said he was his. They were
About how the body, broken or burned, could live again,
Only the fiery text of the thunderhead could explain it.
And they were talking
About pain and the need for judgement and how he would
A law of pain, both its spirit and its letter in his own flesh,
and then break it,
That is, transcend it. His clothes flared like magnesium,
as they talked.
I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….
When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .
I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .
I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .
I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .
I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .
I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .
I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .
I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .
I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .
Journey of the Magi
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had…
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Published last month over at Commonweal.
Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you
could be cured with a hot bath,
says God from the bowels of the subway.
but we want magic, to win
the lottery we never bought a ticket for.
(Tenderly, the monks chant, embrace
the suffering.) The voice of God does not pander,
offers no five year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
Don’t look for your initials in the geese
honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.
Housekeeping thing: a few copies of A Mess of Help sent out had lots of 5s in their tables of contents. Let us know if you got one of those, and we’ll send a new one.
1. As we’re getting into the Christmas spirit, The Economist makes a surprising contribution with a survey of the Magi’s reception history. Apparently the men were likely astrologers/sages of some sort, but people found kings more appealing. In medieval times, some strange theologians talk about massive royal retinues encamped outside Bethlehem, etc. And in other strains of the tradition, they were bumbling traveler types, something in between the…
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