November

november_branchesA branch wields its way
toward the grey haze of an icy sky
stripped of its leaves,
with a golden pile of garments
at its base, shrivelling dry.

The branch is empty to be full –
barren, still it reaches,
still it forks its twigs upward
like a waiting hand,
to catch the flurries of December,
wet and heavy in the promise
of a splendor received, not produced.

But first there are the empty days
between foliage and flurries,
the windswept silence of winter afternoons,
the waiting for more than vacancy…
the outstretching toward the promise
of a gift, unknown.

young goodman brown

I wrote this poem as part of my senior thesis in 1992, shortly after reading Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

It was an exploration of Puritanism as it manifests itself in modern life… which was on my brain because of a paper I had written for the course American Literature to 1865. The instructor mentioned in one lecture about the perennial legacy of Puritanism (and, on the other extreme, hedonism) in American life.

See also: a post I wrote back in 2008 on the RCIA Hollywood blog.

***

Striking a match,
he lit up,
then gave a light to Steve and Dan.
Between puffs, Steve turned on the stereo.

The only lamp was in the corner,
but still I could see the smoke,
rising between my face and theirs.
They drew regularly,
even Dan —
especially Dan,
on the couch,
with his toes gripping the edge
of the coffee table.
I emptied my glass of water
and excused myself to get another,
while the music pounded the glories of rebellion,
chaos, libido, anger —

I returned.
Steve, on the floor,
relaxed as ever, leaned back against the wall,
crossed his legs,
and bowed his head slightly to draw.

They talked about the music,
I think.
I couldn’t hear too well —
I wasn’t really listening.
I was watching the faces,
glassy-eyed,
complacent, smiling,
with lips drawn to cigarettes;
faces for the first time grey in my mind
and the smoke has left them grey —

What childishness to see them any other way…
why should they be less grey than I?
An inner voice cries:
Goodman Brown, go home.
Go home, young Goodman Brown.
Purify yourself
of your puritan mind.

Those grey faces
grey mouths
drawing on their cigarettes and smiling —
I know them as my own.
And I love them still
I love them sorely
and perhaps that is
the only way to love them truly.

fidelity of our mother

mater-dolorosaOn the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15):

A garden dark and darker hearts
bring agony this day;
From Sunday palms to Friday whips
the passions wave astray;
He bears the tree with broken heart
upon the stony way.

With body raised, He hangs in pain
And very few will stay
To watch the life escape Him now
Instead they run away.

But someone stands beneath the Cross
to keep despair at bay
And Christ can smile before He dies:
He hears His mother pray.

on the underground to Heathrow

First Light & No One In Sight

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www.flickr.com/photos/paulshears/

Monday, August 30, 1993
6:01 AM

First light
ashen grey —
travel alarms stoke the coals
and the first sparks emerge,
buy tickets and descend spiral stairs
to the electric pipe with its capsules,
and are swallowed through the London earth.

We are leaving London.

Soon we emerge from under.
We see the streets darkly,
and the yellow electric torches
in the neighborhoods,
as they rush past us
on their way
to where they are.

We sit still,
staying in order to arrive elsewhere,
far elsewhere
through the air elsewhere.

We sit, and few talk
as the tracks pound an echoed rhythm
down the tube cars:
“we move, you move,
we move, you move,”
says the rhythm-track.

Dimness fades into suburbs
in South Ealing
and the pealing
of imaginary bells
tells us it is morning.
And in the morning we will fly,
fly elsewhere,
to land,
still on Time’s underground
and we will stay on it
until we arrive at the tube stop of Eternity.

People will ride with us for a while,
then alight and make connections
with another tube —
yet all will arrive
at the same stop.
Only we must take our own routes
to arrive.

Our ride is ever-new,
forging our way toward eternity —
the momentless moment
and the light there will be a light
no ordinary dawn or day
can approximate.

We arrive in Heathrow in twelve minutes.

In anticipation,
we approximate our moments
as we travel toward eternity.