Opening Thoughts, Marred by Verse

This poem isn’t really finished, but it’s at least round the first bend, and since somehow I’ve already managed to post it once by accident, I’ll let you read what’s there while I work on the rest.

I have been reading Dante, so
Forgive me, if you may,
The way that I am strewing all
These iams on the page.

The mind adapts itself unto
The pattern that it’s fed
And replicates it endlessly
While pulling on its thread –
Unraveling, re-raveling
With endless permutation,
A master-house that has the goal
Of its own renovation.

Who has seen a created thing
That’s made quite like the mind?
Do fish, or birds, or arthropods,
Or beasts that feed on grass
Create themselves the path they follow
And set their lives to plans?
But such is man who’s made like God
The created who creates.
He picks a star and sets his course,
And rides in his own wake.

Yet, unlike God, who gets to choose,
Man also cannot choose.
The mirror shines, and so must he,
Reflecting what he sees.
He halts a bit, and modifies,
Changes meter, or the rhyme,
Opens up his aperture,
Adjusts his shutter speed.

But he cannot cease to worship.
He cannot cease to feed
On wisdom, honor, truth and beauty.
The numinous, the seed
Of glory ever lives inside him
and grows there like a weed.
It forces him to seek the holy
With a holy sort of greed.

And Lord, here is your gardener,
Standing in the field:
He has his seed; he has the soil,
He has a hoe to wield.
He has his purpose, and his duty,
And has the call to choose.
But still he cannot force himself
To ever choose the good.

And like a telescope deciding
Stars are without worth –
It twists itself to look for something,
Unhinging from it’s posts,
Then sways and tips, and holding… falls,
Its lens now mired in earth,
Its vision-shaft now soundly bent,
And lost to starry hosts.
Yet something still is working there,
Receiving what it sees,
Passing up exhumous visions,
Displaying rotten leaves.

So the human constitution,
Though broken by its fall,
Cannot help but seek its purpose,
Shaping self and all
The cosmos to the god it’s fashioned,
Cycling god and self
And cosmos, thralled with choosing, still
Desiring something else.


This fallen world affects all creatures,
Saint and sinner, with the bread
Of hard affliction—mournful soul-ache,
Unjust judgment, creeping dread.

But the God of all creation
Has engineered a hidden path
Wherein the sweetest, purest pleasures
In affliction may be had.

The wise are found in those dark mine shafts
Sifting ore from worthless slag,
While the torrents of life’s hardships
Fall like oil upon their heads.

And the key into this pathway
Where God’s favorites know to hide
Is the simple abjuration
Of any form of human pride. Continue reading “Exhortation”

Good Poetry

Anthony Esolen, who often makes me wish I had gone to college in Rhode Island, has posted a fascinating poem by George Herbert on Mere Comments. I say fascinating because it is deliciously profound and yet… Well, I can’t read it. It doesn’t “scan,” as they used to say.

I can’t tell if there’s some trick of pronunciation, lost in the intervening 400 years, that is causing me to miss beats, or if, at that time, getting precisely the right number of syllables in a line was not considered all that important. I keep trying to screw the oral delivery around until it fits into a nice chant, but it just won’t do, so I suspect Mr. Herbert was being a little cavalier with his rhythm. And this gets under my skin, because I was raised in an era, influenced by Emily Dickenson and E. E. Cummings, which believes that rhyme and rhythm are impediments to the true poetry of free association writing. In reaction, I like the stuff that hits every Iam straight on the head.

Since hardly anyone’s done *that* for over 800 years, I suspect I may be doomed to a life of perpetual minor frustration.

One Hundred Baths In 50 Days

I remind myself, as I turn the tap,
Of the masculine image of bathing,
The wild-west ideal: public bath-houses
With cavernous tubs and nearly naked
Women to bring the towels and cigars.
As if I could ever endure the smoke;
As if I could ever let someone close,
So close and nearly naked next to me.

I still take showers for cleanliness sake,
but once I’m clean and dry, I find myself
Kneeling once again before the faucet.
I lied to myself when I said I was
Better, that the shadows of last autumn
Had finally slipped from the washbed of
My mind, like rotted leaves into the soil.

Instead, I find I’m languishing, stretching
Little bits of work to weeks and longer—
Even months. So feminine to pretend
That pleasure leads to action, that languor
Can be transformed into desire, that if
I lie here just a little longer, I
eventually will want to rise again.

It just takes so long sometimes, after a
Little trauma, to learn to breathe again.
It’s so much easier to slip under
The water, to watch the little pieces
Of oil and skin swirling and floating to
The surface, to pretend that standing
water can somehow lead to cleanliness.

I’ve taken one hundred baths in fifty
Days, lying in the water, trying through
Excessive inundation to restore
The fields of memory to something green.
As if such unmanly activity
Could soak out the tiredness from my insides;
As if the bathtub faucet were a spring
Of Lethe that could soothe my troubled mind;
As if I would do almost anything
To keep myself from doing anything.

Driving Through the Irish Mountains

I do not care to travel much. It’s not
So much that I don’t like to see the sights
And feel the shock of fresh experience.
I do enjoy that rare experience,
But in my mind these things take time, and time
Is rare on trips like this. We rush so fast
From place to place that all we really see
Is our reflections on each other. We
Can only survey our environment:
The study is what we are learning of
Each other.

In this rush, the mountain view,
With all its waterfalls and windswept crags,
Is lost. It flies so fast and vasty green
That it can only hint at treasures far
Beneath. My inclination then is just
To run as quickly as I can — to hide
In some secluded, quiet place, far from
The maddening crowd, and hold me deathly still —
To mine for what is hidden, what is real.

I often fail to find it, whizzing down
The mountain roads, but always there’s a hint
Of something beautiful: the way the pubs
All close at ten, or how the Irishman
Says, “now,” to mean a process is complete;
The sight of all the hills denuded of
Their trees and filled instead with sheep.

The sight
Of barebacked mountains has a holy feel
To someone raised on tufts of grass and clouds
Of dust that stretch beyond the skyline. Plains,
They call them, furling out another world
Away, and furling always in my heart
And mind.

And so it always shocks me, when
I see variety. It feels just like
My first time driving through a city filled
With trees: The things amazed me, how in just
A little time abandoned plots could be
Transformed into a checkered wood, and grow
So thick and lush with pines and firs and vines
Of every species. Trees were everywhere,
And every angle that I looked, it seemed
So deep and rich, enfolding you into
The trees, the way a mother holds her child.

But once a little time had passed, the trees
Grew old on me. Eventually I longed
To see the sky again. I have no way
To tell the sense I have for going home:
Again to feel the Oklahoma wind
And gaze into a great big Sky.

And this
Is how I come again upon this row
Of mountains jutting up against the bus,
My window sometimes flecked by giant ferns
And grasping trees. The road seems almost out
Of place, so smooth and even is its keel.
The clouds are flowing rapidly, a breath,
It seems, above the humbled mountain peaks.

I like to think that from those points, my eyes
Could grace a hundred valleys rolling far
Beneath, and see a thousand stone-walled fields,
Littered full of grazing sheep. I lift
My eyes, and looking up, I feel myself
Surrounded by the heavens: bits of home
Inside me, reaching out to every place.


I cannot sleep during the day. I find
It difficult and pointless, dimming that
Intense fire that is my awareness to
Some peaceful lull that is half way between
A slumber and awake, where you both dream
Your dreams and think about them; then to lay
Away my book, which I had long since left
Off reading, drifting into some decayed,
Warm slumber in the middle of the day.

I once had thought of people who took naps
Like Walden’s railroad sleepers: vainly laid
In mud to let the ruckus of the world
Run over them, but Constance sleeps like love,
And nothing in the world can run her by.

She rises early in the morning, light—
Her brightest hour, and in that moment rests,
At peace, and yet still burning. It’s in that
Moment of quiet intensity that
She sets the tempo for her day. With spade
In hand she weeds the garden of her mind,
And sets the world to dancing.

I have failed
To ever see her in the morning, fast
Asleep in bed, to know if she awakes
With starts, or calm and quiet ease, but I
Have seen her sleeping in the day. She lies
Behind me while I work, her curve of hip
Exaggerated by the straightness of
The bed. I steal a moment’s peace and sit
Beside her, wrap my arm around her own,
And in the partial knowledge of her sleep,
She pulls my hand close to her heart.

She manages to sparkle even while
She sleeps—to burn and yet still slumber. She’s
So different from me, and yet she’s the same.

She turns to sleep so she may wake again


A woman lived in Jesus’ time. A whore
(Some called her so), caught in flagrante, dragged
By all her former lovers, to the chant
Of cries for stoning, to the temple door
Where Jesus sat. He looked at them and wrote
Some figures in the dirt, and asked which one
Was not the one who’d used her for his fun.
Her demons left her then. She stood with hope

And followed Him–believed him when he said
He’d die a shameful death, and planned a way
To give him all the honor due his name.
So, with an ointment, to his meal she fled,
And braved the stares of men who’d called her ‘dox‘,
Then stood and broke her alabaster box.