Vespers

Contemporary American Poems of Religion and Spirituality

University of Iowa Press

Copyright © 2003 Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87745-875-3

Contents

Editors' Note, Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave.................................................................................xi
Acknowledgments.....................................................................................................................xv
Mercy, David Baker..................................................................................................................1
Heavenly, David Baker...............................................................................................................2
The Puritan Way of Death, David Baker...............................................................................................3
Les Mains du Bon Dieu, Jack Bedell..................................................................................................6
The Hole in the Sea, Marvin Bell....................................................................................................8
The Book of the Dead Man (#13), Marvin Bell 10 Sounds of the Resurrected Dead Man's Footsteps (#3), Marvin Bell.....................12
Vision of Salt & Water, J. J. Blickstein............................................................................................14
Host, Bruce Bond....................................................................................................................16
Transparencies, Bruce Bond..........................................................................................................17
Durer's Apollo, Darrell Bourque.....................................................................................................20
Old Women Fishing from Bridges, Darrell Bourque.....................................................................................21
Penance and the Work Week, Gaylord Brewer...........................................................................................22
Transport of the Dead, Gaylord Brewer...............................................................................................23
Christ, the End, Gaylord Brewer.....................................................................................................25
God, Maxine Chernoff................................................................................................................27
Pentecost, Martha Collins...........................................................................................................29
Epiphany, Martha Collins............................................................................................................30
Resurrection, Nicole Cooley.........................................................................................................31
For Jude the Obscure, Peter Cooley..................................................................................................34
Vespers, Peter Cooley...............................................................................................................36
Psalm before Sleep, Peter Cooley....................................................................................................37
Radiance, Robert Dana...............................................................................................................38
A Capella, Robert Dana..............................................................................................................39
Pietŕ, Christopher Davis............................................................................................................40
God's Cut-Off TV Screen's Vanishing Mirror Seems an Unshared Point, Christopher Davis...............................................41
The Soul as a Body, Chard deNiord...................................................................................................43
Because You Mentioned the Spiritual Life, Stephen Dunn..............................................................................44
Religion, Stephen Dunn..............................................................................................................45
The Shiny Aluminum of God, Martín Espada............................................................................................46
Tantum Ergo, Richard Foerster.......................................................................................................48
Petit Mal, Richard Foerster.........................................................................................................49
The Life Everlasting, Reginald Gibbons..............................................................................................50
Cash or Turtle or Heaven, Reginald Gibbons..........................................................................................52
Pentecost, Dana Gioia...............................................................................................................54
The Litany, Dana Gioia..............................................................................................................55
from Holiday, Susan Hahn............................................................................................................57
The Arch of Sanctification, Bob Hicok...............................................................................................60
Between Worlds, Adam Hill...........................................................................................................62
American Heaven, Paul Hoover........................................................................................................64
Hell, Peter Johnson.................................................................................................................66
Enigma of the Stigma, or Vice Versa, Peter Johnson..................................................................................67
Genesis: A Retrospective, Peter Johnson.............................................................................................68
Five from Three, Alice Jones........................................................................................................69
You Keep Coming upon Your Breath at the Altar, George Kalamaras.....................................................................71
The Lamps Are Brought In, George Kalamaras..........................................................................................73
Banaras Is Another Name for the World, George Kalamaras.............................................................................75
Exodus, Jarret Keene................................................................................................................76
God Lovingly Counterattacks, Jarret Keene...........................................................................................77
Dixit Insipiens, Carolyn Kizer......................................................................................................78
Jack in the Box, Ko Won.............................................................................................................80
Still dark when we file like children out on the turf, Sydney Lea...................................................................81
Do not trust in these deceptive words: Sydney Lea...................................................................................83
A Table in the Wilderness, Li-Young Lee.............................................................................................85
Nativity, Li-Young Lee..............................................................................................................87
Little Round, Li-Young Lee..........................................................................................................88
Anthills, Peter Meinke..............................................................................................................89
Quartet, Leonard Nathan.............................................................................................................90
Theology, Richard Newman............................................................................................................91
A Short History of Judaic Thought in the Twentieth Century, Linda Pastan............................................................92
Muse, Linda Pastan..................................................................................................................93
The Apple Shrine, Linda Pastan......................................................................................................94
Segovia, Ricardo Pau-Llosa..........................................................................................................95
Noah, Ricardo Pau-Llosa.............................................................................................................98
The Hollow, Ricardo Pau-Llosa.......................................................................................................99
Song of Surrender, Saleem Peeradina.................................................................................................101
Testament, Saleem Peeradina.........................................................................................................102
At the Summit, Robert Phillips......................................................................................................103
The Wounded Angel, Robert Phillips..................................................................................................104
St. Jacob's Church of the Hanging Hand, James Ragan.................................................................................107
The Birth of God (from an Early Photograph), James Ragan............................................................................109
After the Funeral, Paulette Roeske..................................................................................................111
In the Theatre, Paulette Roeske.....................................................................................................112
As If There Were Only One, Martha Serpas............................................................................................114
Finishing Touch, Martha Serpas......................................................................................................115
Faith in Florida, Martha Serpas.....................................................................................................116
Illumination, R. T. Smith...........................................................................................................117
Teresa, R. T. Smith.................................................................................................................118
The Poet Is Like a Church, David Starkey............................................................................................119
The Annunciation, David Starkey.....................................................................................................120
History, Lucien Stryk...............................................................................................................121
Enough: Lucien Stryk................................................................................................................122
Indian Things, Mark Turcotte........................................................................................................123
Spare Tire, Ivan Urquiza-Vicente....................................................................................................125
A shoreless bath a fabulous boast, Bronislava Volková...............................................................................126
I am not an Amazon-a warrior, Bronislava Volková....................................................................................127
Divine Will, Michael Waters.........................................................................................................128
The Conversion of Saint Paul, Michael Waters........................................................................................130
What We Believe, Charles Harper Webb................................................................................................132
Identifying with the Buddha, Charles Harper Webb....................................................................................134
Faith, Charles Harper Webb..........................................................................................................137
Amaryllis, Mark Wunderlich..........................................................................................................139
Difficult Body, Mark Wunderlich.....................................................................................................141
Contributors' Notes.................................................................................................................143
Permissions.........................................................................................................................153
Further Readings....................................................................................................................157
Index to Titles.....................................................................................................................159


Chapter One

DAVID BAKER

Mercy

Small flames afloat in a blue duskfall, beneath trees anonymous and hooded, the solemn trees-by ones and twos and threes we go down to the water's level edge with our candles cupped and melted onto little pie-tins to set our newest loss free. Everyone is here.

Everyone is wholly quiet in the river's hush and appropriate dark. The tenuous fires slip from our palms and seem to settle in the stilling water, but then float, ever so slowly, in a loose string like a necklace's pearls spilled, down the river barely as wide as a dusty road.

No one is singing, and no one leaves-we stand back beneath the grieving trees on both banks, bowed but watching, as our tiny boats pass like a long history of moons reflected, or like notes in an elder's hymn, or like us, death after death, around the far, awakening bend.

DAVID BAKER

Heavenly

They are potted at night, pink, and packed with mulch or peat, chert in handfuls at their base for weight and hydration, they are red as daybreak is red breaking over the buildings, they are flecked white, gray-white, and silver like the quick sides of the sunfish that will circle the shallow fountain all summer. This morning I think even the afterworld must be traced with geraniums, one block long, for that is how far the city fathers have gone, pot by pot, to pretty the town. And what shall we do but admire them,

the fathers, who like their flowers have turned fresh outheld faces to greet ours, and are lined up in front of the drugstore, sub shop, barbershop, the library, and fountain, hair like little wings on the morning's breeze. They wave to show us magnificent flowers. Heavenly, our gift, these will bloom clear through the summer. Let us praise them then and stroke their soft leaves which will scent our hands to pass on to all that we touch today- for who are we to deny the next life, having come far already, in this one.

DAVID BAKER

The Puritan Way of Death

How hard this life is hallowed by the body. How burdened the ground where they have hollowed it, where they have gathered to set the body back,

handful by handful, the broken earth of her.- They have gathered to sift back the broken clod of her body, to settle her, now, back down.

"A child is a man in a small letter," wrote John Earle in sixteen twenty-eight, "Natures fresh picture newly drawne in Oyle, which Time and much

handling dimmes and defaces," wrote Prof. David E. Stannard, Yale, nineteen seventy-seven. A stutter of winter wind shakes the plain trees

until they seem, leafless, huddled over, to weep. But John Earle was not a Puritan. Here then, at the grave of the girl who was sorely bitten

by the Small Pox, they do not bow down, neither raise their heads, nor hold hands against the cold. This fruit of natural corruption and root

of actual rebellion both against God and man must be destroyed, and no manner of way nourished ... For the beating, and keeping down

of this stubbornness parents must provide carefully, instructed John Robinson in the same year as Earle's Micro-comographie.

The frozen ground of their gaze steadies them. The gray grasses shiver and snap at their feet. They do what they can. Long days and nights they stand

with her, through her fevers and ague, and clean her gentle Vomit, and try to soothe the Pustules and her Eruptions, until there grow Hundreds,

and neither then a common poultice of Lint dipt in the Variolous Matter, nor warmed Leaves of the Cabbage laid to her rapid heart,

nor prodigious bleeding, nor prayer, can save her. They go astray as soon as they are born. They no sooner step than they stray, they no sooner

lisp than they ly, mourns Cotton Mather, sixteen eighty-nine. Yet he himself is father to fifteen, and loves them, suffering their afflictions.-

He sees in his LambsD in the Fold evidence of God's love. Moreso His fury. Are they Young? Yet the Devil has been with them already.

At least, let us give thanks for a lease so short that terror has short time to dwell. Only two of Mather's children live beyond their father,

as though a father's fealty be his children. So the lamplighter takes up his grim vigil, torch in hand, and together we walk the slick path

through the centuries, where the ministers shall say what has been said, what needs be repeated. Oh, blood upon the hands. Urine to the lips.

Let us burn the garments of disease lest they cloak us now, and let our faith be provender, provision, and protection, and offer no

ly, no calumny, nor any words but these. Let us stand before the door and gaze outward. Field and fallow. Fish and fowl. Mall and highway

now alike. She lives among us-. She is ours, flesh of our flesh, whom our sorrows have begot. Let us walk beside ourselves with this grief, who

neither raise our heads nor hold hands to the cold. She goes beside us, even so, even as I write this to you, neighbor, friend, daughter,

my reader, this day, in nineteen ninety-nine. She reminds us always of this death, this life, which is redundant, awful, endless, and ours.

JACK BEDELL

Les Mains du Bon Dieu (after a line in Daigrepont's Cajun spiritual)

For my uncle, Ray Rougeau

The last word I can picture you saying to me was "Faith." It sticks because you were never a man people would call talkative, even before the nurses wrote you down as unresponsive, before they took your staring at the cracks in the white walls of your room as some kind of loss. They see in your eyes a man who would hand them back anything they gave you without sign of recognition, but every time you rest your eyes from the wall to meet mine we are together on a popelier dock in early fall, the sky flat-gray on the water. A run of bull red has knocked the conversation out of us, turning it all into cast and reel- backbone and shoulders. The fish are so big the only thing they hit is small crab on shad rigs. We've already filled the boat to near sinking, so you leave me there on the dock to ride out our luck while you bring the first load back to the camp to ice down. Alone, I live a twelve-year-old's dream: every time I cast I land a big one to pile on the dock as testament to the day. It is more than I can handle, more than we deserve, but I keep pulling them in. You return in time to see my rod arc and the line give more than it has all day. You watch me fight this monster patiently and load the boat again. Almost by script, just when I want to fold, the fish runs straight at us, between the pylons under the dock. With no sign or pause you take the rod from my hand and toss it into the water. It is all I can do not to follow it, a rig worth more allowances than I can imagine lost for one fish in a pile of one hundred just like it. You pull me near and whisper the word mostly to yourself. Your eyes stare calmly at something just below the surface I can not make out. When the redfish comes around to make its last run at the gulf, the rod follows as if delivered by the hands of God. In a single motion you catch it up and pass it to me to finish out the day. Before my line breaks and your stare returns to the wall, I have a sense of what you mean: Mettez votre vie dans les mains du Bon Dieu.

MARVIN BELL

The Hole in the Sea

It's there in the hole of the sea where the solid truth lies, written and bottled, and guarded by limp- winged angels- one word under glass, magnified by longing and by the light tricks of the moving man in the moon. Nights, that word shows, up from the bottle, up through the water, up from the imaginable. So that all who cannot imagine, but yearn toward, the word in the water, finding it smaller in the hole in the sea, rest there. If no one has drowned quite in the hole of the sea, that is a point for theology. "Blame God when the waters part," say sailors and Hebrews; blame God, who writes us, from His holy solution, not to be sunk, though all our vessels convey black messages of the end of the world. So goes the story,

the storybook story, so goes the saleable story: Courage is in that bottle, the driest thing there is.

MARVIN BELL

The Book of the Dead Man (#13)

1. About the Dead Man and Thunder

When the dead man hears thunder, he thinks someone is speaking. Hearing the thunder, the dead man thinks he is being addressed. He thinks he is being addressed because the sound contains heat and humidity-or groaning and salivation. Isn't that always the way with passionate language-heat and humidity? The dead man passes burning bushes and parting seas without inner trembling, nor does he smear his door with blood. The dead man can only be rattled physically, never emotionally. The dead man's neuroses cancel one another out like a floor of snakes. He is the Zen of open doors, he exists in the zone of the selfless, he has visions and an ear for unusual music. Now he can hear the swirling of blood beneath his heartbeat. Now he can fall in love with leaves-with the looping lift and fall of love. Naturally, the dead man is receptive, has his antennas out, perches on the edge of sensitivity to receive the most wanton prayer and the least orderly of wishes. To the dead man, scared prayer isn't worth a damn. The dead man erases the word for God to better understand divinity. When nothing interferes, nothing interrupts, nothing sustains or concludes, then there's no need to separate doing from not-doing or to distribute the frequencies of the thunder into cause and effect. The dead man speaks God's language.

2. More about the Dead Man and Thunder

The dead man counts the seconds between lightning and thunder to see how far he is from God. The dead man counts God among his confidants: they whisper. The dead man hears the screams of roots being nibbled by rodents. He notes the yelps of pebbles forced to maneuver and of boulders pinned into submission. He feels the frustration of bodily organs forced to be quiet. He thinks it's no wonder the sky cries and growls when it can. The dead man's words can be just consonants, they can be only vowels, they can pile up behind his teeth like sagebrush on a fence or float like paper ashes to the top of fathomless corridors, they can echo like wind inside a skull or flee captivity like balloons that have met a nail. The dead man serves an indeterminate sentence in an elastic cell. He hears a voice in the thunder and sees a face in the lightning, and there's a smell of solder at the junction of earth and sky.

MARVIN BELL

Sounds of the Resurrected Dead Man's Footsteps (#3)

1. Beast, Peach and Dance

He couldn't say it or write it or sign it or give it a name. He was suffering, he was terrible, he had a shape you could see in the fire. He blamed the wine, God, the infamous events of Bethlehem. Each newborn appeared to him in the air, their gorgeous proportions shaping the swaddling cloth each to each. On the one hand, he felt the galaxies cooling, the gears clogging and the old passions frozen into debilitating poses. On the other hand, it was now April and he had a buzz on because some seasons are their own nectar. He could pick out a jacket and tie if he had to. He could sit without twitching through the outdoor Mozart, the band shell gleaming like a new star. Around him, the concertgoers sat tight-lipped, their expectations rewarded. Before him, the night took on the sheen of flat glass and he could see in it the beacons of the town, and the blue-blackness of space just beyond. His eyes fixed on a small, fuzzy star among many larger stars. He became obsessed with this star, certain it was a Jewish star. He felt that, if he could follow it, it would lead him to the true story of Jesus. That night, while Mozart resolved in the air, he began to travel through time. His small star would someday pass close to him but not yet.

2. Angel, Portrait and Breath

The hands that were nailed, the ankles that were pierced as if one-he had seen such proclamations before, it being common. The bodies that literally came unglued in the furnace, the bones festering in lye-he had seen the piles of coats and eyeglasses, there being many. The same angel who watched over the crucified Jesus passed over the cremated Jews, or was that a cloud? The smokestacks carried away their last breaths. Then Jesus rose entire to show the power of belief. The dead Jews disintegrated into earth, air and water to show the lasting effects of evil. He could not give it a name but felt that night as if, whatever it was, it lived on a small star, encircled but apart. Thereafter, ordinary objects displayed a consciousness of the presence of men and women. The blackened pots and ladles of the kitchen appeared changed. They shone from long years of sustenance, from soups and sauces. And in the shop he felt it also in the saws and sawhorses, in the drop cloths and bent nails, each encrusted with the years. In this manner, he came to see in common objects the shine of the angelic. The divine and horrific were linked by things and their descendants. It was possible to see the good and bad in a needle and thread, in a pencil and pad, in a spoon, in a shoe. The cloud appeared to him by day and the little star by night.

J. J. BLICKSTEIN

Vision of Salt & Water Elijah's horn

He dreamt that his ear was a small Africa.

His horn was a seismic instrument parting the water in the boat that brought him here.

He played, superimposing the continent in his ear to the soil beneath his feet, to reinvent the tired fire of his mythology, to split the plum in the throat of the angel.

He pulled notes from the river. He parted the lips of the angel, in his dream, searching the tongue with the original hand for the ashes of its maker. He found only water, but he was changed. He had become the water & slept with the fingers of the angel in his mouth.

He played the air as if it were brass nipples of the saxophone mutilating the lice that lay between the fire in his fingertips.

He designed a new sorrow in the circle of fifths cutting his name into the lamb in the lung of the angel.

He set the landscape of the land where he was born on fire, it did not burn but sweat the melody of its element into a perfect sphere.

They, in the parallel water of the mutual dream, spilled out the formula of the voice that formed the antique heart.

The angel asked Elijah if he knew the sound that would break the lump of gold in the eternal breath & cut the blueprint in his vein from the simultaneous.

(Continues...)



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