two days at the end of summer

two days of watching things fall,
the organizing markers in the substrate of my memory:
one was blue sky bright and clear, a fine day,
the first tips of autumn in the air,
the pines before our house were calm and unknowing.
the television billowed with the smoke and time stopped.
an exchange of horror with the postman, I remember,
the day lapse into stunned silence, collapsing
towers on an endless loop, bodies falling. we
could almost smell the smoke and breathe the dust.
everything tasted acrid, our false innocence
expiring under the towers’ broken beams.

the other was not blue sky and bright except in the central
moment as the eye passed over. it was looked for,
but we were not prepared, we did not yet know what
true power looked like, what it meant for everything to stop.
the pines moved in slow splintering rhythm with the skies,
twisting and cracking and bleeding into the driving rain
first the television went,
then the phones,
finally, the radio fell silent, the great tower on the ridge south
crumpled, the cables snapped. silence descended.
trees and towers falling, bodies swallowed up in the waters.
in the heat and decay afterward great insect swarms
moved upon the face of the riven earth, and
the sky was blue and clear and merciless.

a memento mori for the anthropocene

close your eyes and collect your heart,
feel the pricks and pains and discomforts of your body
the touch of your machine made clothes, smell far distant
the sweat of the Bangladeshi worker, straighten your spine,
breathe the heavy air. eyes now open,
direct your gaze at the concrete before you,
look for a breath and a half.
eyes shut, review the landscape in your heart:
sidewalk and building, road and powerlines, trees
rooted under the asphalt, straining. move the clock forward,
see the years pass, new oceans soon lapping at less distant shores,
the asphalt cracks, the sparrows take to the fields,
every edifice totters, o bring us the little foxes,
your body and your civilization a-mouldering in the grave,
tattered powerlines flying in the wind
rags tied at an unholy tomb.
these trees tumble, rot, and new trees grow,
the foxes remain but the vineyard is gone,
and muscadines tangle the new trees.
feel your bones and the built up bones of this world below
crumble to dust, taste the death dew heavy,
let your heart feel I and all my works will perish.
still the new trees grow

nocturne, first of August

an open window, first night of August, I
know in my bones and my blood coursing
that the babel of human endeavor is all vain
the ambient aural field of the insects’ nocturne
shimmers and fills without, in peace come and depart,
the flow of creatures awake to themselves and alive
to Wisdom, in order and rhythm without human ken,
from before and through and after us on earth.

the dark is a full emptiness,
all is symbol and every symbol is all itself.
the ocean of the world washes upon every shore, and is
in dreams and waking. wisdom—let us attend
and the attending stands to in us, whether we will
it or not. on the crickets go, ceaselessly, night, night,
song upon song, and I, to sleep and to wake and to sleep
again

Tasābīḥ

when the light of your eye is purified
you will hear the trees cry out and clap,
and in the long grind of settling strata stone
see by subterranean fire and force etched
the echoed impression of the eternal Name,
bending on the incline of earth’s energy,
the pulse of the wound of grace.
when your inmost ear is attuned to the Real,
the crack of the branch in the icestorm will
sound a psalm of unending praise renewed
in each moment and minutest fiber of being, and so in
your own heart’s pump and beat of blood, pure
creaturely fervor and light, the rhythm of remembrance,
time’s flow become the prayer-bead line followed.
forever and ever in the Temple all cry
Glory. on this mountain and on that hill.
all is sanctuary and sanctuaried,
you can finally see, and hear.

Stability

Ah world of plastic and poorly bonded materia, fast consumption
Your truest mode, you will be washed in the floods of divine judgment
Woven into the fabric of the world, an assurance
That all our works will suffer the land only so long. Ephemera
Accumulate, then rot. One day a stylite will carve out a home
And radiate his holiness from some marbled remnants rising
Out of the Potomac’s heaped higher floodplain. He will climb down one day
And find at his feet a flint shard washed down from the highlands,
Proof of peoples’ longer gone but with longer echo. He will
Return to his perch and pray in words also solid and deep.

Love Making

‘Make love’ we say, and so here indeed is the fruit,
Our love made flesh and bone and blood, life
From love, and love from life. ‘Receive
The body of Christ’ we sing, love in spite of all
In flesh and blood for us, becomes us, and we Him.
Eucharist, this, the swell of thanksgiving in hearts and veins,
Lifting on the ethereal incense, and also as I rest my hands
On my wife’s body, feel this new life stretch and stir within her.
Love is an easy word to say and feel, but the real doing takes
Weight and density, runs along a rough contrary grain—
The pull of a baby in the womb, the push of rock and earth in tilling,
The crooked holy timber of the Cross, splintered and sorrowed.
In the end the only true loves are those that are made and that make,
The work of hand and heart in our slow but surely hallowed places.

On Not Knowing

There is now much to be said for a power of veiling,
Of making secret, leaving covered. Let this and that corner
Rest obscure, if seen at all then in the sorts of dreams
You had as a child, when your imagined maps had so many
Blank spaces, not just strange beasts in the luminous void,
But whole hidden worlds waiting to open up to you.
Or not—perhaps those others worlds would remain a mystery,
And that was just as good. Sometimes it is better to never know
What lies on the other side of the mountain, or what every
Symbol on the map means. When all can be known,
Every geography pieced together, charted down to the substrates,
The heart gets cramped, and busied with the many things.
Though the holy man can see innermost secrets, still
He sets himself up in the quiet unknowing of seclusion,
There to unsee and so to see further than any.

The Art of Self-Knowledge

JOhn Donne
Portrait of John Donne (1573-1631), painted in 1622. V&A DYCE.5

‘If we remember that such exhortations resound throughout the popular treatises of our period, whether Puritan, Catholic or Anglican, we may avoid a tendency to attribute the acute self-consciousness of English meditative poetry in this era chiefly to Donne’s example, or to declare that “Herbert’s extreme insistence on individual responsibility” is “rather Puritan than ‘Churchly,'” or to attribute to the influence of Epictetus the presence of such a consummately Christian view as that expressed by Donne in his significant lines to Rowland Woodward:

Seeke wee then our selves in our selves; for as
Men force the Sunne with much more force to passe,
By gathering his beames with a christall glasse;

So wee, If wee into our selves will turne,
Blowing our sparkes of vertue, may outburne
The straw, which doth about our hearts sojourne.

But may we not argue that the fierce inward scrutiny of Puritanism intensified this emphasis, put a “finer edge on the spiritual life” by pursuing methods of analysis that “called for more intelligence and more concentration than any of the Catholic techniques”? I believe that the foregoing chapters will have shown that such a view represents a misapprehension of the devotional techniques of the Counter Reformation. Intense concentration on the “motions” of the self is not a peculiar tendency of Puritanism, though it has some peculiar aspects, deriving from Puritan theology… But so far as self-examination is concerned the fact is that both Catholic and Puritan, while accusing each other bitterly of neglecting the inner life, were pursuing the art of self-knowledge by methods equally intense and effective- methods that had, on both hands, developed a subtlety of self-awareness that went far beyond the popular achievements of the Middle Ages.’

Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954)121-122.

At the End of the Winter, Southwest Virginia

Here, now
What is keenest
Is the horizon above the barn,
White pines in rank and sharp air spilling down,
The winds off the Blue Ridge. We tramp up the melting snow the pools
The mud to the fence line, admire the red oxen in the pasture,
Auburn bodies of gentle power against the patching white,
Horns curve fierce and ivory, a piece with the lay of the land
And the land’s tongues’ gentle lilt. I know
The gentleness belies the fierceness, too,
And I pray both stay long and lean against the hard times
Building up brilliant store, a slumbering trout lily under the snow.

The Spirit of Robinson Jeffers Rises Along the Lost River

Gray clouds mount, earth and river sink down
Under the stones’ still new cut. The sliced bloodroot bleeds and bleeds,
But the ten thousand things fall silent along the bypassed highway.
Ah hawk, swooped and spun by a following raven,
There is no solace in what we think will be freedom, but only
Shadows and dreams chasing and chasing.
My skin laps the bloodroot’s flow and the limestone opens
To staunch the river’s run. So what is hidden is always coming out,
And returning to ground, the round and round of the world.
One name gives way to another. Time goes, and goes nowhere,
Goes everywhere. I lock eyes for a hanging moment with
The buzzard in silent glide. Somewhere the ten thousand things gather.