Category Archives: Poetry

A war begins

One hundred years ago the war known as the First World War, began.

An archive picture shows a statue of Christ on the cross on a tree at Fricourt on the Somme front in France

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
(from The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot, 1922)

Lest we forget, great public cheers went up in nearly every belligerent country at the the declaration of war. Germany cheered. France cheered. Italy cheered. England cheered.

WW1v2

England is ecstatic at the declaration of war.

“Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.” – Saint Paul

“You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war.” – Saint James

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Books I have not read

Books I have not read
Is a thought squatting
At the back of my brain
Looking a lot like a
Laughing bedside table
Overflowing with falling
And jumbled and stacked
And continually shuffled
But never finished
Books

I have not read many books
In fact almost none
If we’re talking statistics
I mean think of all the books
There are in the world
Even only the good ones
And all the words upon words
Their pages contain

I’m a slow reader

But what are numbers really
I mean compare the soul
To a graph or an equation
Or just a number
My soul is a four
Your’s is a six
What could that possibly mean?

I try not to think about it

We sent astronauts
To the moon
They were test pilots
Technical men
Men of action
Men of numbers
But don’t you wish
They had been poets?

But poets don’t always return
And neither do test pilots
And the list of books
That I have not read
Continues to grow
Like the expanding Universe
Booming and crackling
Into something even a poet
Might hesitate to say
She adequately or even
Apophatically described

And to think all this
And by “all this” I include
The books I have not read
Began only a few billion years ago
With a Word

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Christian Prayer

In the darkness
In the darkness of the day
My lips seek to move
To call down the gods
Tell the stories
The ancient longing
Roiling visions and fables
Truths in wondrous poetry
To call forth sweet desires
And raging passions
To call to yell to sing out
The purity of the deepest pain
The comfort of eternal joy
Beauty breathing glories
The clarion the myth the wonder
The legend’s promise
The true answer

I seek the true answer

The heart of man is in the stars
And so my lips move
They labor in the darkness
Silent circumference of grace
Forming the call
Embodying a logos
A weak voice whispering
Of the the word become body
Of the the myth become history
Becoming history
Become his story
And every knee shall bow
To the God become man
To man’s longing flung to the heavens
Returning like lightning
Splitting ether
Turning the world
And every tongue confess
The end of myth’s fulfillment
Imagination’s fullness
The telos of desire
Made flesh

And it dwelt among us

In this darkness
My lips move
An ordinary prayer
The physical liturgy
The body embodying
The movement again and again
And again
Repeating in my body
The motions of supplication
The memory of limbs
The sinews of soulish prostration
Far from the glory
But so close so close
In the darkness of the day

I seek a glory incarnate

Mourning seeking morning
An hourly liturgy
The liturgy of a whisper
And so my lips move
And speak of the wonder
And the glory taking flesh
When all the myths were answered
Were finally answered
Made flesh among us
Making me flesh
And my lips move
In the darkness of the day
They move
My lips move
In the darkness

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Filed under Christian Life, Poetry, Prayer

a sky of birds

dawn
darkness
dark lines

morning seeping over the black jagged cutout horizon
the air like porcelain faintly tinted glistening slowly above

where am I?
this vapor
this mountain

thin gossamer fence
crisp stark stretches
endless

islands of personal history

I have been here before

moments tender now, yellowed even, I suppose

…and this
striding beside the canal
quiet canvas, leather
collars up mysterious light
hats down supplications

leaves fall slower since then, I seem to remember

…and distances between us
marked heel to toe

eyes like ambient night

…and water glowing the muted richness of the sky
glass ribbons around us
dry grass
a vast soul
beauty

silence like leaves

…and walking together
we have before us the lake with mirrored silhouettes
flying above the ground of memory
gently arrayed in undulating chevrons
tumbling from cold steel heavens…

and these archipelagos I seek the finer things
gleam like the cartridges in our pockets I describe eternity
a jumbled assortment I reach for the stars
from the air of remembering I dig the earth
a thin strand of vapor I hold you
a burning mountain I let you go

this dawn
this darkness
these dark lines

a sky of birds
falling to the ground

(November 1999)

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the walls of Jericho

it seems we’ve been

memorializing the dead for months

transcending the world of blood

like birds above the sea

some ascended in the illness of age

some in the pagan flames

of grief and treachery

and we spoke softly

weeping

our palms held flat

predicting nothing

presenting nothing

holding the vanity of our existence

like candles waiting to be lit

at the banquet feast



it seems we’ve been

crossing the river for years

like flung stones skipping

believing in stopping

just above the surface

shadows forever below

topsides forever dry

forgetting the far bank

(that beckons like doves returning with branches)

mere stones gleaming like diamonds

our eyes turned inward

our thoughts

fortresses



it seems we’ve been saying

these things since the beginning

like statues on Pacific islands

like Indus valley ruins

like snakes winding on garden trees

“Erect for yourself monuments,

for there is nobility in darkness!”

and so we cover ourselves in silk

fearing love is an enemy

singing songs to the walls

of Jericho

(April 1999)

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Build Soil: a Political Pastoral

by Robert Frost, 1932

Why Tityrus! But you’ve forgotten me.
I’m Meliboeus the potato man,
The one you had the talk with, you remember,
Here on this very campus years ago.
Hard times have struck me and I’m on the move.
I’ve had to give my interval farm up
For interest, and I’ve bought a mountain farm
For nothing down, all-out-doors of a place,
All woods and pasture only fit for sheep.
But sheep is what I’m going into next.
I’m done forever with potato crops
At thirty cents a bushel. Give me sheep.
I know wool’s down to seven cents a pound.
But I don’t calculate to sell my wool.
I didn’t my potatoes. I consumed them.
I’ll dress up in sheep’s clothing and eat sheep.
The Muse takes care of you. You live by writing
Your poems on a farm and call that farming.
Oh I don’t blame you. I say take life easy.
I should myself, only I don’t know how.
But have some pity on us who have to work.
Why don’t you use your talents as a writer
To advertise our farms to city buyers,
Or else write something to improve food prices.
Get in a poem toward the next election.
Oh Meliboeus, I have half a mind
To take a writing hand in politics.
Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
I may be wrong, but Tityrus to me
The times seem revolutionary bad.

The question is whether they’ve reached a depth
Of desperation that would warrant poetry’s
Leaving love’s alternations, joy and grief,
The weather’s alternations, summer and winter,
Our age-long theme, for the uncertainty
Of judging who is a contemporary liar
Who in particular, when all alike
Get called as much in clashes of ambition.
Life may be tragically bad, and I
Make bold to sing it so, but do I dare
Name names and tell you who by name is wicked?
Whittier’s luck with Skipper Ireson awes me.
Many men’s luck with Greatest Washington
(Who sat for Stuart’s portrait, but who sat
Equally for the nation’s Constitution).
I prefer to sing safely in the realm
Of types, composite and imagined people:
To affirm there is such a thing as evil
Personified, but ask to be excused
From saying on a jury here’s the guilty.
I doubt it you’re convinced the times are bad.
I keep my eye on Congress, Meliboeus.
They’re in the best position of us all
To know if anything is very wrong.
1 mean they could be trusted to give the alarm
If earth were thought about to change its axis,
Or a star coming to dilate the sun.
As long as lightly all their live-long sessions,
Like a yard full of school boys out at recess
Before their plays and games were organized,
They yelling mix tag, hide-and-seek, hop-scotch,
And leap frog in each other’s way, all’s well.
Let newspapers profess to fear the worst!
Nothing’s portentous, I am reassured.

Is socialism needed, do you think?

We have it now. For socialism is
An element in any government.
There’s no such thing as socialism pure
Except as an abstraction of the mind.
There’s only democratic socialism
Monarchic socialism oligarchic,
The last being what they seem to have in Russia.
You often get it most in monarchy,
Least in democracy. In practice, pure,
I don’t know what it would be. No one knows.
I have no doubt like all the loves when
Philosophized together into one-
One sickness of the body and the soul.
Thank God our practice holds the loves apart
Beyond embarrassing self-consciousness
Where natural friends are met, where dogs are kept,
Where women pray with priests. There is no love.
There’s only love of men and women, love
Of children, love of friends, of men, of God,
Divine love, human love, parental love,
Roughly discriminated for the rough.

Poetry, itself once more, is back in love.

Pardon the analogy, my Meliboeus,
For sweeping me away. Let’s see, where was I?
But don’t you think more should be socialized
Than is?
What should you mean by socialized?

Made good for everyone things like inventions-
Made so we all should get the good of them
All, not just great exploiting businesses.

We sometimes only get the bad of them.
In your sense of the word ambition has
Been socialized the first propensity
To be attempted. Greed may well come next.
But the worst one of all to leave uncurbed,
Unsocialized, is ingenuity:
Which for no sordid self-aggrandizement,
For nothing but its own blind satisfaction
(In this it is as much like hate as love)
Works in the dark as much against as for us.
Even while we talk some chemist at Columbia
Is stealthily contriving wool from jute
That when let loose upon the grazing world
Will put ten thousand farmers out of sheep.
Everyone asks for freedom for himself,
The man free love, the business man free trade,
The writer and talker free speech and free press.
Political ambition has been taught,
By being punished back, it is not free:
It must at some point gracefully refrain.
Greed has been taught a little abnegation
And shall be more before we’re done with it.
It is just fool enough to think itself
Self-taught. But our brute snarling and lashing taught it.
None shall be as ambitious as he can.
None should be as ingenious as he could,
Not if I had my say. Bounds should be set
To ingenuity for being so cruel
In bringing change unheralded on the unready,

I elect you to put the curb on it.

Were I dictator, I’ll tell you what I’d do.

What should you do?
I’d let things take their course
And then I’d claim the credit for the outcome.

You’d make a sort of safety-first dictator.

Don’t let the things I say against myself
Betray you into taking sides against me,
Or it might get you into trouble with me.
I’m not afraid to prophesy the future,
And be judged by the outcome, Meliboeus.
Listen and I will take my dearest risk.
We’re always too much out or too much in.
At present from a cosmical dilation
We’re so much out that the odds are against
Our ever getting inside in again.
But inside in is where we’ve got to get.
My friends all know I’m interpersonal.
But long before I’m interpersonal
Away ‘way down inside I’m personal.
Just so before we’re international
We’re national and act as nationals.
The colors are kept unmixed on the palette,
Or better on dish plates all around the room,

So the effect when they are mixed on canvas
May seem almost exclusively designed.
Some minds are so confounded intermental
They remind me of pictures on a palette:
‘Look at what happened. Surely some God pinxit.
Come look at my significant mud pie.’
It’s hard to tell which is the worse abhorrence
Whether it’s persons pied or nations pied.

Don’t let me seem to say the exchange, the encounter,
May not be the important thing at last.
It well may be. We meet I don’t say when
But must bring to the meeting the maturest,
The longest-saved-up, raciest, localest
We have strength of reserve in us to bring.

Tityrus, sometimes I’m perplexed myself
To find the good of commerce. Why should I
Have to sell you my apples and buy yours?
It can’t be just to give the robber a chance
To catch them and take toll of them in transit.
Too mean a thought to get much comfort out of.
I figure that like any bandying
Of words or toys, it ministers to health.
It very likely quickens and refines us.

To market ’tis our destiny to go.
But much as in the end we bring for sale there
There is still more we never bring or should bring;
More that should be kept back the soil for instance
In my opinion, though we both know poets
Who fall all over each other to bring soil
And even subsoil and hardpan to market.
To sell the hay off, let alone the soil,
Is an unpardonable sin in farming.
The moral is, make a late start to market.
Let me preach to you, will you Meliboeus?
Preach on. I thought you were already preaching.
But preach and see if I can tell the difference.
Needless to say to you, my argument
Is not to lure the city to the country.
Let those possess the land and only those,
Who love it with a love so strong and stupid
That they may be abused and taken advantage of
And made fun of by business, law and art;
They still hang on. That so much of the earth’s
Unoccupied need not make us uneasy.
We don’t pretend to complete occupancy.
The world’s one globe, human society
Another softer globe that slightly flattened
Rests on the world, and clinging slowly rolls.
We have our own round shape to keep unbroken.
The world’s size has no more to do with us
Than has the universe’s. We are balls,
We are round from the same source of roundness.
We are both round because the mind is round,
Because all reasoning is in a circle.
At least that’s why the universe is round.

If what you’re preaching is a line of conduct,
Just what am I supposed to do about it?
Reason in circles?

No, refuse to be
Seduced back to the land by any claim
The land may seem to have on man to use it.
Let none assume to till the land but farmers.
I only speak to you as one of them.
You shall go to your run-out mountain farm,
Poor cast-away of commerce, and so live
That none shall ever see you come to market-
Not for a long long time. Plant, breed, produce,
But what you raise or grow, why feed it out,
Eat it or plow it under where it stands
To build the soil. For what is more accursed
Than an impoverished soil pale and metallic?
What cries more to our kind for sympathy?
I’ll make a compact with you, Meliboeus,
To match you deed for deed and plan for plan.
Friends crowd around me with their five year plans
That Soviet Russia has made fashionable.
You come to me and I’ll unfold to you
A five year plan I call so, not because
It takes ten years or so to carry out,
Rather because it took five years at least
To think it out. Come close, let us conspire-
In self-restraint, if in restraint of trade.
You will go to your run-out mountain farm
And do what I command you, I take care
To command only what you meant to do
Anyway. That is my style of dictator.
Build soil. Turn the farm in upon itself
Until it can contain itself no more,
But sweating-full, drips wine and oil a little.
I will go to my run-out social mind
And be as unsocial with it as I can.
The thought I have, and my first impulse is
To take to market— I will turn it under.
The thought from that thought—I will turn it under
And so on to the limit of my nature.
We are too much out, and if we won’t draw in
We shall be driven in. I was brought up
A state-rights free-trade Democrat. What’s that ?
An inconsistency. The state shall be
Laws to itself, it seems, and yet have no
Control of what it sells or what it buys.
Suppose someone comes near me who in rate
Of speech and thinking is so much my better
I am imposed on, silenced and discouraged.
Do I submit to being supplied by him
As the more economical producer,
More wonderful, more beautiful producer?
No. I unostentatiously move off
Far enough for my thought-flow to resume.
Thought product and food product are to me
Nothing compared to the producing of them
I sent you once a song with the refrain:

Let me be the one
To do what is done

My share at least lest I be empty-idle.
Keep off each other and keep each other off.
You see the beauty of my proposal is
It needn’t wait on general revolution.
I bid you to a one-man revolution
The only revolution that is coming.
We’re too unseparate out among each other
With goods to sell and notions to impart.

A youngster comes to me with half a quatrain
To ask me if I think it worth the pains
Of working out the rest, the other half.
I am brought guaranteed young prattle poems
Made publicly in school, above suspicion
Of plagiarism and help of cheating parents.
We congregate embracing from distrust
As much as love, and too close in to strike
And be so very striking. Steal away
The song says. Steal away and stay away.
Don’t join too many gangs. Join few if any.
Join the United States and join the family
But not much in between unless a college.
Is it a bargain, Shepherd Meliboeus?

Probably but you’re far too fast and strong
For my mind to keep working in your presence.
I can tell better after I get home,
Better a month from now when cutting posts
Or mending fence it all comes back to me
What I was thinking when you interrupted
My life-train logic. I agree with you
We’re too unseparate. And going home
From company means coming to our senses.

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Filed under Economics, Poetry

In The Bleak Midwinter

A poem by Christina Rossetti, written circa 1872, later made into a Christmas carol.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother1
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

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