30 November 2014

I lie in the box of my making

                                              by Mark Strand

Sadness, of course, and confusion.
The relatives gathered at the graveside,
talking about the waste, and the weather mounting,
the rain moving in vague pillars offshore.

This is Prince Edward Island.
I came back to my birthplace to announce my death.
I said I would ride full gallop into the sea
and not look back. People were furious.

I told them about attempts I had made in the past,
how I starved in order to be the size of Lucille,
whom I loved, to inhabit the cold space
her body had taken. They were shocked.

I went on about the time
I dove in a perfect arc that filled
with the sunshine of farewell and I fell
head over shoulders into the river’s thigh.

And about the time
I stood naked in the snow, pointing a pistol
between my eyes, and how when I fired my head bloomed
into health. Soon I was alone.

Now I lie in the box
of my making while the weather
builds and the mourners shake their heads as if
to write or to die, I did not have to do either.

From The New York Review of Books, October 24, 1968.

23 November 2014

The dancers are all gone under the hill

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.


What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled bythe rulling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

That was a way of putting it – not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the in tolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where there is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

The houses are all gone under the sea.

The dancers are all gone under the hill.

From T. S. Eliot, “East Coker,” Four Quartets, 1943.      

16 November 2014


It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems ot imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can chine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?

I'll just ask your mother to have those old sermons of mine burned. The deacons could arrange it. There are enough to make a good fire. I'm thinking here of hot dogs and marshmallows, something to celebrate the first snow. Of course she can set by any of them she might want to keep, but I don't want her to waste much effort on them. They mattered or they didn't and that's the end of it.

There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together.  One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world's mortal insufficiency to us.  Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true.  "He will wipe the tears from all faces." It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.

Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it.  I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave -- that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing  to honor them is to do great harm.  And therefore, this courage allows us, as the old men said, to make ourselves useful.  It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying exactly the same thing.  But that is the pulpit speaking.  What have I to leave you but the ruins of old courage, and the lore of old gallantry and hope?  Well, as I have said, it is all an ember now, and the good Lord will surely someday breathe it into flame again.

I love the prairie!  So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word "good" so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.   There may have been a more wonderful first moment "when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy," but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout, and they certainly might well.  Here on the prairie there is nothing to distract attention from the evening and the morning, nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or to delay.  Mountains would seem an impertinence from that point of view.

To me it seems rather Christlike to be as unadorned as this place is, as little regarded.  I can't help imagining  that you will leave sooner or later, and it's fine if you have done that, or you mean to do it.  This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more.  But hope deferred is still hope.  I love this town.  I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of live -- I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence.

I'll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country.  I will pray you find a way to be useful.

I'll pray, and then I'll sleep.

Concluding pages of Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, 2004.

09 November 2014

Grain pattern on drying concrete

                         by Peter Waldor

New Parents, Bluegrass Festival

The number of powered
sugar granules spilling
off a funnel cake exceeds
the three hundred sextillion
stars of the universe
Some powder sticks to the dough
and some powder falls,
as one bleary-eyed parent
passes the cake over
their newborn baby,
to the other bleary-eyed parent.
A streak of powder lands
on the infant's head.
Both parents are large
How perfect that they both are
the way they are . . .
One shades the child
as they, beginners,
concentrate on a diaper change.

The Last of the Original Forms

After disaster,
when the demolition crew
took down the old
concrete column, they found
on its inside,
a wood form the builder
forgot to remove.
A man with a chisel and small sledge
freed the plank before
they turned the column
into rubble and wire.
He took it home,
washed, sanded, and placed it
in a child's room as a shelf.
Five pings of the small sledge
to free the form, the last
of the original forms.
Who knows where
the others ended up,
each plank leaving its own
grain pattern, where it braced
the drying concrete.

From The American Poetry Review, September/October 2014.

02 November 2014

Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me

                                   by Josephine Miles

The Lions of Fire Shall Have their Hunting”

The lions of fire
Shall have their hunting in this black land

Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
Their claws kill

O the lions of fire shall awake
And the valleys steam with their fury

Because you are sick with the dirt of your money
Because you are pigs rooting in the swill of your war
Because you are mean and sly and full of the pus of your pious murder
Because you have turned your faces from God
Because you have spread your filth everywhere

Oh the lions of fire
Wait in the crawling shadows of your world
And their terrible eyes are watching you.

Midnight Special

There were no antelope on the balcony
And Thomas had not yet appeared
At the barred window above the precipice

A little snow had fallen since the afternoon
But it was warm in the thought
Of distant forests and I said: “God
Will not suffer if I run my hands
Out over these deeps and shy groves
Until I touch my own undertaking”

But Thomas was busy at his gruel
And when the antelope did come
The management had rigged up a loudspeaker
On the balcony and I was asked to say
A few words to the present George 6th
So I said: “Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me.
O let the Midnight Special shine its everlovin' light on me.”

O My Love the Pretty Towns”

O my love
The pretty towns
All the blue tents of our nights together
And the lilies and the birds glad in our joy
The road through the forest
Where the surly wolf lived
And the snow at the top of the mountain
And the little
Rain falling on the roofs of the village
O my love my dear lady
The world is not very big
There is only room for our wonder
And the light leaning winds of heaven
Are not more sweet or pure
Than your mouth on my throat
O my love there are larks in our morning
And the finding flame of your hands
And the moss on the bank of the river
And the butterflies
And the whirling-mad

From The Voice That is Great Within Us (1971).