Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Journey of the Magi

Prosperos of the East,
They had consulted their tables and books
And realized, of a sudden,
The end was come.

They left their homes and philosophies.
They packed lightly for the arduous trip.
They picked their way on camels and asses toward the West,
Filled with a faith they could not explain.

To honor the miracle even their dark arts could not help but to foretell,
They made their way past bandits and thieves
And wasted time even with a king.
But being wise, and then wiser still, they would heed warnings and go back a different way.

There, beneath the light of an unnatural star--
A quasar bursting celestial joy--
They saw a shadow of sorrow upon the land,
And knew it the beginning of the end
Of everything.

If they grieved, they did so in their hearts and were silent.
They offered Him gifts,
Such as they were,
Symbols: Frankinscence, gold, and myrhh.
They recognized Him the gift,
The something they could not say:
The sacrament
And sign.
And, then, humbly, they disappeared.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

L'Antica Rete

The painters had made it seem

as though Beauty was soft,

So, I suffered a modern affliction--

Passed to me (father to son to father and so on)--

That caused me to look at such jaundiced images

As if they were not really upside down.

And, like my father, I quickly mistook fear for awe

In that presence the first time I met it.

So, casting about (my own little net)I reached (as perhaps our Geoffrey had reached)

For such a tale as would tell me my place

And found (what my father had overlooked)

Vogli, Breatrice, volgi gli occhi santi

That I too was caught in l'antica rete:

As in her eyes, Beauty is hard

Like diamonds.

(image: Dante's Dream at the Death of Beatrice by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1871) English Pre-Raphaelite, oil on canvas, Walker Gallery, Liverpool)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Eve's Second Sorrow

There are no images of Eve's second sorrow.

On the death of her son
From forseeable betrayal
There are contemplations of beauty.

Her sorrow then cannot be but precursor

To a Promethean blind hope

That Death might itself

Necessitate a salvation that only a medieval might understand.

But Adam surely died.
Did she cradle him in her arms?
I prefer to think she did--and Michealangelo captured something
Of the paradox in the Pieta:
A Mother mourning the death of the First Son, even
As an Eve shed tears for the passing of the second.

(image: (c) "The First Mourning." William Adolph Bourguereau

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tobias Says Goodbye to his Father

I remember I had read something from Tobit,
But the last line was missing from the text.
I had not realized it until, staring down,
I knew the script was missing something important.

So I read it with a cadence that would make it seem complete.

It seemed at the moment quite like life.

Here I was, an honored man, asked to read a bit of Old Testament
Scripture during a wedding in Atlanta.
And, lo, a line was missing.

I thought for a moment that I might make something up.

But what could a jester add to the comedy of Tobit?

So, I read the last line and emphasized the wrong words,
Paused, said something about the Word of the Lord
And exited the stage--just shy of Fortinbras' entrance
Demanding the disaster be covered o'er with a pomp and circumstance
My rented tuxedo belied..

Being with child, and wanting my wife, for once, to enjoy
The joy that attends a wedding,
I took my youngest, restless, curious, and full of life,

There, at the bottom of the steps I witnessed something singular:

Looking up to street-level I saw a man, in a long coat I something envied
Deposited from a fat yellow cab upon a rain-slicked walk.
He wore also a hat and scarf, the colors of which were dark and tasteful--
I could tell even from where I was below.

He paid the driver, had some talk, turned, and, straightening his hat,
Walked to the grand doors of the Cathedral.

I thought then that Coleridge's Mariner might accost him, but no-one appeared.
He paused, and then opened gently the door--and light spilled from within,
Illuminating briefly an infinite triangle (in all dimensions a kind of diamond) of grey
Speckled with rain and fluffy cotton-balls of snow.

Before he entered I noted he removed his hat
And the expiration of his breath reminded me briefly of mortality.

His hair was a silver-white in that seeming late-night light
And I thought: How I hope to be so distinguished someday.
Perhaps I will wear eye-glasses like that too.

Perhaps I shall live so long.

And then he disappeared.

Presumably, he went to join the wedding feast.
The Bride and Bride-Groom rosy in the rush of nuptial ceremony
Would later lead us to a reception where they did not fail to offer
The best wine first, second, and last.

I asked someone who had also seen him,
This distinguished man,
Entering stealthily into a marriage-vow
Just before the seal was sealed, and I discovered

I knew him:

His name was Peter, and he came because he knew them--

The Bride and Groom.

This Fisherman, lover, husband, founder--his orphans spread far and wide--
It was rumored, would never miss a wedding:

But had never seen a birth.

(Image: Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father. Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

And Martha Must Wait

Euryclea clap't her hands
But refrained from remarking upon the scar.
And Homer, honoring the goodly nursemaid's restraint,
Tells instead of boar and spear:
A boy's being blooded to become a man.

Who would blindly chase his fate and lose his way
For ten long years, return, a beggar's foot
Fallen into a basin, even as his beloved Telemachus
Was soothed by the fiat of a redeemed Helen of Troy?

How could she then, who'd suckled the boy,
Stay her very own lips and not shout for joy
That the man now Master had returned?

A prodigal without a brother, a son-father who was also a God?

But return he did and silent she remained.

He threaded the bow
Ascended the stair,
His labors complete,
And there then found that for which he'd been made:

And Martha wonders how this
Could be the better portion.

But faithful Euryclea cleansed the foot only of a pre-cursor
Of truth
And was content.

And Martha must wait.

(image: "Ulysses Recognized by Euryclea," Eustave Boulanger, 1849. Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris

Friday, April 10, 2009

Falling In Love (I) Thanks to Kate

And in a sudden he saw her standing there, turning gracefully toward him and he could not speak. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he could not think of anything to say--this man of words was stunned, momentarily, to a profound silence as he looked upon the image of his heart's desire, one of which he had dreamed, knew he'd know, but never hoped to find since such dreams never really come true. And in that image he saw the hints of his future life, the graceful features of the hands of a daughter he would come to know, the deep-set, sad eyes of a son who would grow to be a man, the dark brown eyes of a grandchild who would love a funny man with a white beard called "Grampa."

In the coming weeks and days of their courtship, he continued to be haunted by the feeling that he simply did not know what to say. They conversed, he was funny, she laughed and fell in love. But still, he could not articulate what was in his heart--and then, on the day of their wedding he realized what it was that he wanted to say:

I do.

(image of Dante & Beatrice in Paradise by Amalia Ciardi Dupre, subject to copyright)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

This is What it Looks Like to Fall in Love

Some many years after Dante, as a nine year old, had seen Beatrice, he saw her again as an adult. There was no hope they could ever be together. He loved her anyway.


This is the image of a gift you've been granted. Embrace it. Live up to it. Be husbands. Be fathers. Recognize the beauty that has been offered to your humility.

If you are so gifted to have a Sophia, or a Sheila--or an Elizabeth or a Grace or an Eamon or Liam. Come to know them for the gifts to you that they are. The faces they show you are facets that otherwise you would not know.

Know them and come to know yourself.

And then abandon that part of you that thinks that they show you something about you. They don't. They show you something you need to know that you wouldn't know without them.

(image: © 2008 Jonamac Productions, "Dante and Beatrice", 1883, by Henry Holiday. Antonio Corsi posed as Dante. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England)