Poetry


Just came across this, in the latest Orion Magazine:

osprey1.jpg

Doctrine

I love the church
of the osprey, simple
adoration, no haggling
over the body, the blood,
whether water sprinkled
from talons or immersed
in the river saves us,
whether ascension
is metaphor or literal,
because, of course,
it’s both: wings crooked,
all the angels crying out,
rising up from nests
made of sticks
and sunlight.

– Todd Davis

Indeed. It sounds like it could have come right out of Aldo Leopold or something.

Powwow River, NH

Well, anyway,
you can’t clear a
forest and then
wonder where all
the deer went.

Cover of Davis McCombs, Ultima ThuleI’m sitting here doing a little reading from Davis McCombs’ Ultima Thule, a collection of the author’s poems inspired by Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Told from the vantage point of a slave cavern guide to tourists of Mammoth Cave in the 19th century, these poems are stunning reflections on beauty and provide some pretty awesome metaphors for life, spirituality, the whole bit. As a religionist and student of scriptures who also views the natural world in metaphoric terms for deep spirituality and community ethics, I was particularly taken by the poem “Tours:”

Tours

The services of a guide cannot, as a rule,
be dispensed with; we alone can disentangle
the winding passageways. I will admit
the tours for me grow burdensome.
How long must I endure their need to fill
with talk the natural silence? I have heard
it all before, their proposed improvements:
Widen the trails so that two carriages
may pass abreast … Here, a capacious ballroom.
Mere fancies. And yet beneath their words
I have discerned a kind of rough-hewn fear.
From drawing rooms and formal gardens
they come to me, from sunlit lives they enter
the chill, grand and instantaneous night. (Ultima Thule, p. 17)

This is such a striking metaphor for what we as educators do. It also speaks to me in terms of stewardship; like the poet, we have all heard of proposed improvements to just about everything from Bibles to Bayous. Despite my vocation, I do feel moved to sometimes just turn off the exegesis, turn off the exposition, the discussion, and just let the text/landscape speak for itself, in silence.

And the rough-hewn fear … yeah, for both student and educator, laity and pastor, reader and expositor.

To do this poem justice, I must cease now, and let it speak to you in the silence.

View of Crater LakeRecently I have been reflecting on what it means to try to live a real life in a world that strikes me as becoming increasingly unreal. Our world aspires now to unrealistic expectations of “progress” on the one hand or to the imminent advent of a salvific messiah to bring us to an eternal utopia on the other. Beauty is commodified and objectivized, to the point that we can no longer tell the difference between what is authentically beautiful and intrinsically good and what is a commercialized copy to serve ends that are anything but good. Seems like we have somehow exchanged genuine love for the beautiful and the good for a crass faith in fakes, as Umberto Eco puts it. Even when an occasional prophet comes along to expose the idols we have constructed, we typically have no idea how to restore, or re-create, an original beauty that can deconstruct our original sin.

In a recent post, Audrey (of saintsophia.wordpress.com) expresses her desire to be able to recreate in a way that gets her away from the pains and horror of the ugliness of real life, what Merton would call the “dread of emptiness, the lack of authenticity, the quest for fidelity” that results in the “experience of boredom and of spiritual disorientation” (Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, p. 25). I have been feeling exactly the same, and the recent events in Blacksburg, Virginia, as well as the student’s self-proclaimed justifications for his actions, demonstrate how much the faith in fakes has taken over. Like Audrey, I also seek to recreate and to develop a spirituality and consciousness of beauty and goodness and ingenuity that can combat the faith in fakes wherever we find it (and this includes, let it be said right now, our churches and communities of faith). How do we live a real life in an unreal world? How do we life a life that seeks creation and recreation, that consecrates the beautiful and cherishes the good, that names the holy and recognizes the sacred?

 

Diane Ackerman, “The Work of the Poet is to Name What is Holy”

The work of the poet
is to name what is holy:

the spring snow
that hides unevenness
but also records
a dog walked at lunchtime,
the hieroglyphs of birds,
pawprints of a life
tiny but resolute;

how, like Russian dolls,
we nest in previous selves;

the lustrous itch
that compels and oyster
to forge a pearl,
or a poet a verse;

the drawing on of evening
belted at the waist;

snowfields of diamond dust;

the cozy monotony
of our days, in which
love appears with a holler;

the way a man’s body
has its own geography –
cliffs, aqueducts, pumice fields,
but a woman’s is the jungle,
hot, steamy, full of song;

the brain’s curiosity shop
filled with quaint mementos
and shadowy antiques
hidden away in drawers;

the plain geometry
of you, me, and art –
our angles at rest
among shifting forms.

The work of the poet
is to name what is holy,

and not to mind so much
the pinch of words
to cope with memories
weak as falling buildings,

or render loss, love,
and the penitentiary
of worry where we live.

The work of the poet
is to name what is holy,
a task fit for eternity,
or the small Eden of this hour.

Read this deep last night (or is it this morning?).

Tigress

THE LIONESS

The scent of her beauty draws me to her place.
The desert stretches, edge from edge.
Rock. Silver grasses. Drinking hole.
The starry sky.
The lioness pauses
in her back-and-forth pacing of three yards square
and looks at me. Her eyes
are truthful. They mirror rivers,
seacoasts, volcanoes, the warmth
of moon-bathed promontories.
Under her haunches’ golden hide
flows an innate, half-abnegated power.
Her walk
is bounded. Three square yards
encompass where she goes.

In country like this, I say, the problem is always
one of straying too far, not of staying
within bounds. There are caves,
high rocks, you don’t explore. Yet you know
they exist.
Her proud, vulnerable head
sniffs toward them. It is her country, she
knows they exist.

I come towards her in the starlight.
I look into her eyes
as one who loves can look,
entering the space behind her eyeballs,
leaving myself outside.
So, at last, through her pupils,
I see what she is seeing:
between her and the river’s flood,
the volcano veiled in rainbow,
a pen that measures three yards square.
Lashed bars.
The cage.
The penance.

Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language, 1975

There is so much in this poem. Just so much. The pure physicality of the lioness, the way it conveys awe over its beauty and the fear of the viewer by trespassing its space; the power of rivers, seacoasts, volcanoes, to inspire the same, the innate power beneath the beauty of her body. The irresistible danger of straying into her territory, of the desire for the inaccessible caves and high rocks among the seas, the rivers, and volcanoes. Metaphors, all of them, I can physically feel, for sexuality and spirituality both, and for relationships with the human and the divine, the body and the spirit.

canandaigua-lake-ice.jpg

It was only a week ago that
we were out here walking this path, the
firm steps we took yielding to nothing.

But how different things can get, how
much things change in the blink of an eye.

What was once unyielding, solid and
firm has now become a raging torrent,
shifting this way and that, threatening
to drown out every last bit of solid
footing that only last week we were
so certain would hold us up.

I abandon my foothold and let
the new current bring me to a new
spot, or maybe even the same spot.

Only God knows.

One thing is certain.
If I fight too much,
I will freeze and drown.

Harlan Hubbard’s “Pastoral Kentucky Hillside With Sheep”

From A Timbered Choir, 1991:1 (p. 125-6).

The year begins with war.
Our bombs fall day and night,
Hour after hour, by death
Abroad appeasing wrath,
Folly, and greed at home.
Upon our giddy tower
We’d oversway the world.
Our hate comes down to kill
Those whom we do not see,
For we have given up
Our sight to those in power
And to machines, and now
Are blind to all the world.
This is a nation where
No lovely thing can last.
We trample, gouge, and blast;
The people leave the land;
The land flows to the sea.
Fine men and women die,
The fine old houses fall,
The fine old trees come down:
Highway and shopping mall
Still guarantee the right
And liberty to be
A peaceful murderer,
A murderous worshipper,
A slender glutton, or
A healthy whore. Forgiving
No enemy, forgiven
By none, we live the death
Of liberty become
What we have feared to be.

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