Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Sunday, February 05, 2012


Some poems I've posted here in the past ....

Saturday Night in the Tomb - William Coleman

I like to imagine Him dancing there,
testing his limbs' limits once more, fitting
back into his body the way we might
slip back again into a forgotten
favorite shirt crumpled in the closet,
finding ourselves wrapped in an old love's
scent and remembering the moonflowers
opening in our gaze, steadying
for another long, glorious night of worship.
That's the God I believe in—the one
who can't wait to roll back the rock, leave nothing
behind, make an appearance everywhere,
yet who still loves these nights alone, the cool
darkness of His room, that sweet, solitary
music that keeps Him humming long after the dying's done.

From Book of Hours - Rainer Maria Rilke

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing—
each stone, blossom, child—
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

A Boat - Richard Brautigan

O beautiful
was the werewolf
in his evil forest.
We took him
to the carnival
and he started
when he saw
the Ferris wheel.
green and red tears
flowed down
his furry cheeks.
He looked
like a boat
out on the dark

Supernatural Love - Gjertrud Schnackenberg

My father at the dictionary stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand

His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word 'Carnation'. Then he bends

So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard

A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
"The obligation due to every thing
That's smaller than the universe." I bring

My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle's eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly

Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study's gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb

To read what's buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch "Beloved" X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle's point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

I cannot read. My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as "Christ's flowers", knowing I

Can give no explanation but "Because."
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does

Where following each X, I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, "A pink variety of Clove,

Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,

He turns the page to "Clove" and reads aloud:
"The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud."
Then twice, as if he hasn't understood,

He reads, "From French, for clou, meaning a nail."
He gazes, motionless,"Meaning a nail."
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,

I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth "Beloved", but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,

The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I've sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,

I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, "Daddy Daddy" -
My father's hand touches the injury

As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ's when I was four.

What I Would Do - Marc Petersen

If my wife were to have an affair,
I would walk to my toolbox in the garage,
Take from it my 12" flathead screwdriver
And my hickory-handle hammer,
The one that helped me build three redwood fences,
And I would hammer out the pins
In all the door hinges in the house,
And I would pull off all the doors
And I would stack them in the backyard.
And I would empty all the sheets from the linen closet,
And especially the flannels we have slept between for
nineteen winters;
And I would empty all the towels, too,
The big heavy white towels she bought on Saturdays at
And the red bath towels we got for our wedding,
And which we have never used;
And I would unroll the aluminum foil from its box,
And carry all the pots and pans from the cupboards to the
And lay this one long sheet of aluminum foil over all our
pots and pans;
And I would dump all the silverware from the drawer
Onto the driveway; and I would push my motorcycle over
And let all its gas leak out,
And I would leave my Jeep running at the curb
Until its tank was empty or its motor blew up,
And I would turn the TV up full-blast and open all the
And I would turn the stereo up full-blast,
With Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on it,
Schiller's "Ode to Joy," really blasting;
And I would strip our bed;
And I would lie on our stripped bed;
And I would see our maple budding out the window.
I would see our maple budding out our window,
The hummingbird feeder hanging from its lowest bough.
And my cat would jump up to see what was the matter
with me.
And I would tell her. Of course, I would tell her.
From her, I hold nothing back.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion - Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead mean naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Through they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Behaving Like a Jew - Gerald Stern

When I got there the dead opossum looked like
an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
It took me only a few seconds—just
seeing him there—with the hole in his back
and the wind blowing through his hair
to get back again into my animal sorrow.
I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking through the grilles,
the slimy highways, the heavy birds
refusing to move;
I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.
---I am going to be unappeased at the opossum's death.
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
I am not going to stand in a wet ditch
with the Toyotas and the Chevys passing over me
at sixty miles an hour
and praise the beauty and the balance
and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
when my hands are still a little shaky
from his stiffness and his bulk
and my eyes are still weak and misty
from his round belly and his curved fingers
and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.

Picnic's Over - Erica Wagner

After Elaine Fasula

Here is the lesson these travellers took:
a river, a lover, a broken book.
Dressed for the weather, naked as rain,
roped one to the other they set out again.

That one has packed up his tricks for the night:
the jack-knife, the skein, the mariner’s light.
The wren is the gift at the heart of the wood;
her song is washed clean in the travellers’ blood.

This one lays bait for the stars to devour:
a feather, a saltbox, his enemy’s power.
He thought that the sandwiches tasted of shame,
his hunger a dog off the edge of the frame.

I will go with you, the fifth one remarked,
past the bridge over silence and into the dark;
the blade and the seed to temper disaster,
the clatter of horns will carry our laughter.

Here is the lesson these travellers took:
a ladder, a letter, a scarlet book.
Stripped by the rain, worn in the weather,
the lover, the enemy, vanish together.

Happiness - Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.

It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

The Room - Kevin Hart

It is my house, and yet one room is locked.
The dark has taken root on all four walls.
It is a room where knots stare out from wood,
A room that turns its back on the whole house.

At night I hear the crickets list their griefs
And let an ancient peace come into me.
Sleep intercepts my prayer, and in the dark
The house turns slowly round its one closed room.

Tobit And Sarah - Jennifer Whiting

This is not the old days when a drachma
gets you a guardian angel for the
two-day journey to Rages. Costs have gone up.

Blindness. Dead husbands.
The root of agony: the neighbors and the maid.

For a safe journey: ignore the whispers.
Know: I am the duplicate document,
a contract that is always being signed.

The Last Day - Kevin Hart

When the last day comes
A ploughman in Europe will look over his shoulder
And see the hard furrows of earth
Finally behind him, he will watch his shadow
Run back into his spine.

It will be morning
For the first time, and the long night
Will be seen for what it is,
A black flag trembling in the sunlight.
On the last day

Our stories will be rewritten
Each from the end,
And each will hear the fields and rivers clap
And under the trees

Old bones
Will cover themselves with flesh;
Spears, bullets, will pluck themselves
From wounds already healed,
Women will clasp their sons as men

And men will look
Into their palms and find them empty;
There will be time
For us to say the right things at last,
To look into our enemy’s face

And see ourselves,
Forgiven now, before the books flower in flames,
The mirrors return our faces,
And everything is stripped from us,
Even our names.

from Epitaphs
by Abraham Sutzkever
Translated By Jacqueline Osherow
Read the translator's notes

Written on a slat of a railway car:

If some time someone should find pearls
threaded on a blood-red string of silk
which, near the throat, runs all the thinner
like life’s own path until it’s gone
somewhere in a fog and can’t be seen—

If someone should find these pearls
let him know how—cool, aloof—they lit up
the eighteen-year-old, impatient heart
of the Paris dancing girl, Marie.

Now, dragged through unknown Poland—
I’m throwing my pearls through the grate.

If they’re found by a young man—
let these pearls adorn his girlfriend.
If they’re found by a girl—
let her wear them; they belong to her.
And if they’re found by an old man—
let him, for these pearls, recite a prayer.

For a Coming Extinction - W.S. Merwin

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day

The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And foreordaining as stars
Our sacrifices

Join your word to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important

In a Dark Time - Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady stream of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

The Seed - Hal Summers

I am the small million.
I am the locked fountain.
Late, late in summer’s dotage
When they stand gaunt and blasted,
The hollyhock tower and the cottage
Of clover, and age has wasted
The sun - then, then at last
I jump, I glide, a waif
Victoriously lost,
Tempestuously safe.

I go as weak as sea-water.
I lie as quiet as radium.

In the dust-high caravan, in
The cabin of a bird’s claw,
Or sheepback I travel, I have been
In the whale, his prophesying maw;
I have occupied both town
And parish, an airborne spirit, a
Soldier in thistledown,
A meek inheritor.

I am dry but I shall slake you.
I am hard but I shall satisfy you.

The apple contains me and I
Contain the apple, I balance
A field on a stalk and tie
A century’s voices in silence;
And all the hopes of the happy
And all the sighs of the sorry
Rest in my power to copy
And copying vary.

I am the first omega.
I am the last alpha.

And remember, I lie beneath
All soils of time, fears’ frost;
Remember, I stir in my death,
Most missed I am least lost;
Remember, in the gaunt garden
In the kingdom of a broken tree
You will find after Armageddon,
After the deluge, me.

Corporeal Love - David Waltner-Toews

I love the body
earth's body
the body of Christ
your body.
Your mind is nothing without your body.
The spirit of earth is nothing without
the trees, mud, cats, snakes,
children, grandparents.
Victory in war is nothing
without bodies to count.
Bodies count.

I love bodies.
I want to kiss them, hold them, pity them,
refrain from embracing even
as I embrace.
I want to speak unspeakable emotions
in body language.

Whatever we cannot say
we are fated to embody.
Whatever we mean
is meant best with our bodies.
These are the words of God,
incarnation, beyond creeds
and commanding textbooks,
infinity embracing herself,
loving ourselves to life
even unto death.

And what I wish for everyone,
my global fatherhood peace wish,
comes down to a bowl of chili
and buttered toast,
with English Breakfast tea,
with you, in this warm kitchen
on a snow-blown day.

Beauty - Charles Baudelaire

I AM as lovely as a dream in stone,
And this my heart where each finds death in turn,
Inspires the poet with a love as lone
As clay eternal and as taciturn.

Swan-white of heart, a sphinx no mortal knows,
My throne is in the heaven's azure deep;
I hate all movements that disturb my pose,
I smile not ever, neither do I weep.

Before my monumental attitudes,
That breathe a soul into the plastic arts,
My poets pray in austere studious moods,

For I, to fold enchantment round their hearts,
Have pools of light where beauty flames and dies,
The placid mirrors of my luminous eyes.

Faith Healing - Philip Larkin

Slowly the women file to where he stands
Upright in rimless glasses, silver hair,
Dark suit, white collar. Stewards tirelessly
Persuade them onwards to his voice and hands,
Within whose warm spring rain of loving care
Each dwells some twenty seconds. Now, dear child,
What's wrong
, the deep American voice demands,
And, scarcely pausing, goes into a prayer
Directing God about this eye, that knee.
Their heads are clasped abruptly; then, exiled

Like losing thoughts, they go in silence; some
Sheepishly stray, not back into their lives
Just yet; but some stay stiff, twitching and loud
With deep hoarse tears, as if a kind of dumb
And idiot child within them still survives
To re-awake at kindness, thinking a voice
At last calls them alone, that hands have come
To lift and lighten; and such joy arrives
Their thick tongues blort, their eyes squeeze grief, a crowd
Of huge unheard answers jam and rejoice -

What's wrong! Moustached in flowered frocks they shake:
By now, all's wrong. In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make
By loving others, but across most it sweeps
As all they might have done had they been loved.
That nothing cures. An immense slackening ache,
As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps,
Spreads slowly through them - that, and the voice above
Saying Dear child, and all time has disproved.

To a Cat - Algernon Charles Swinburne

STATELY, kindly, lordly friend,
Here to sit by me, and turn
Glorious eyes that smile and burn,
Golden eyes, love's lustrous meed,
On the golden page I read.

All your wondrous wealth of hair,
Dark and fair,
Silken-shaggy, soft and bright
As the clouds and beams of night,
Pays my reverent hand's caress
Back with friendlier gentleness.

Dogs may fawn on all and some
As they come;
You, a friend of loftier mind,
Answer friends alone in kind.
Just your foot upon my hand
Softly bids it understand.

Morning round this silent sweet
Sheds its wealth of gathering light,
Thrills the gradual clouds with might,
Changes woodland, orchard, heath,
Lawn, and garden there beneath.

Fair and dim they gleamed below:
Now they glow
Deep as even your sunbright eyes,
Fair as even the wakening skies.
Can it not or can it be
Now that you give thanks to see ?

May not you rejoice as I,
Seeing the sky
Change to heaven revealed, and bid
Earth reveal the heaven it hid
All night long from stars and moon,
Now the sun sets all in tune?

What within you wakes with day
Who can say?
All too little may we tell,
Friends who like each other well,
What might haply, if we might,
Bid us read our lives aright.

Wild on woodland ways your sires
Flashed like fires;
Fair as flame and fierce and fleet
As with wings on wingless feet
Shone and sprang your mother, free,
Bright and brave as wind or sea.

Free and proud and glad as they,
Here to-day
Rests or roams their radiant child,
Vanquished not, but reconciled,
Free from curb of aught above
Save the lovely curb of love.

Love through dreams of souls divine
Fain would shine
Round a dawn whose light and song
Then should right our mutual wrong---
Speak, and seal the love-lit law
Sweet Assisi's seer foresaw.

Dreams were theirs; yet haply may
Dawn a day
When such friends and fellows born,
Seeing our earth as fair at morn,
May for wiser love's sake see
More of heaven's deep heart than we.

Mary And Gabriel - Rupert Brooke

Young Mary, loitering once her garden way,
Felt a warm splendour grow in the April day,
As wine that blushes water through. And soon,
Out of the gold air of the afternoon,
One knelt before her: hair he had, or fire,
Bound back above his ears with golden wire,
Baring the eager marble of his face.
Not man's nor woman's was the immortal grace
Rounding the limbs beneath that robe of white,
And lighting the proud eyes with changeless light,
Incurious. Calm as his wings, and fair,
That presence filled the garden.
She stood there,
Saying, "What would you, Sir?"
He told his word,
"Blessed art thou of women!" Half she heard,
Hands folded and face bowed, half long had known,
The message of that clear and holy tone,
That fluttered hot sweet sobs about her heart;
Such serene tidings moved such human smart.
Her breath came quick as little flakes of snow.
Her hands crept up her breast. She did but know
It was not hers. She felt a trembling stir
Within her body, a will too strong for her
That held and filled and mastered all. With eyes
Closed, and a thousand soft short broken sighs,
She gave submission; fearful, meek, and glad. . . .
She wished to speak. Under her breasts she had
Such multitudinous burnings, to and fro,
And throbs not understood; she did not know
If they were hurt or joy for her; but only
That she was grown strange to herself, half lonely,
All wonderful, filled full of pains to come
And thoughts she dare not think, swift thoughts and dumb,
Human, and quaint, her own, yet very far,
Divine, dear, terrible, familiar . . .
Her heart was faint for telling; to relate
Her limbs' sweet treachery, her strange high estate,
Over and over, whispering, half revealing,
Weeping; and so find kindness to her healing.
'Twixt tears and laughter, panic hurrying her,
She raised her eyes to that fair messenger.
He knelt unmoved, immortal; with his eyes
Gazing beyond her, calm to the calm skies;
Radiant, untroubled in his wisdom, kind.
His sheaf of lilies stirred not in the wind.
How should she, pitiful with mortality,
Try the wide peace of that felicity
With ripples of her perplexed shaken heart,
And hints of human ecstasy, human smart,
And whispers of the lonely weight she bore,
And how her womb within was hers no more
And at length hers?
Being tired, she bowed her head;
And said, "So be it!"
The great wings were spread
Showering glory on the fields, and fire.
The whole air, singing, bore him up, and higher,
Unswerving, unreluctant. Soon he shone
A gold speck in the gold skies; then was gone.
The air was colder, and grey. She stood alone.


Blogger Dina said...

I am stunned. What a collection.

12:29 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Dina,

Thanks - I guess I've been collecting them for years :)

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Beautiful beautiful poems Crystal - thanks for posting them!

4:41 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


6:08 PM  

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