This morning, because the start of daylight saving tricked my son into sleeping in, I had time to read. So I opened up the new poetry anthology from Proost Poets, Reaching for Mercy, a collection that I contributed to. I must admit that, the first time I looked at it, when I had just received a copy, I mostly looked for my poems, then to see if I knew any of the names. But this morning I decided to be less narcissistic and began from the front cover, and what I found as I started reading the editors’ reflections and the opening poems was a series of voices that felt familiar, like companions who cared about the same things and had walked the same paths as me: not all the same as me – some far from it – but reminders that a solo act like writing is still not done alone. When the struggle for authentic hope and faith in this world feels an increasingly steep up-hill climb, collections like this can help us feel that we have companions, fellow-strugglers to go with.
To find out more about the collection and get a copy, go here.
I shame at mine unworthiness, yet fain would be at one with Thee: Thou art a joy in heaviness, a succour in necessity.
(Sir William Leighton, 1614)
Shame and joy move in polyphonic sway:
the vision delights, augments, and yet
diminishes the confidence.
How can I, with unclean lips,
hymn praises without minor chords?
Must burning lips be always scorched
for worthiness to drive the heavy soul?
The quavering voice, the riddling Me?,
the scroll that makes the sinner frown.
Seraph brings the cleansing coal,
while heaviness lags and leaves.
…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk…
In truth, I teach this child very little.
So much is sheer instinct, determination,
what HR would call “get up and go”.
But there’s little of HR, more of
the deep-sea diver
or the alchemist at his art,
to how this small enthusiast takes
to his knees, then feet, then –
I did not teach him this.
No, this has a deeper logic,
one taught to joints and sinews,
flowing in marrow, raising from soil
to soul, teaching the human spirit
Best is the Father who says, Let it Be, and all Is.
Best the Father who teaches Baby Father me
to bounce the pensive child and sing
a song in the night for dreams.
For I too, often reduced to a crawl,
must also learn, down in the sinews and the marrows of the self
the truth that says, Rise up and walk.
I missed the flames that day,
was at my books, learning the whys and wherefores of Law,
determined that every subscript iota
would not be neglected when I stood before God.
The Spirit blows wherever it wills.
Mine was the letter, not the wind.
When, years later, I clutched letters in hand,
I held every one that spelt, I am right.
I missed the flame, but the wind still arrested;
and the Son spoke assaults on my well-crafted name.
The Spirit caught, sent me – though crooked –
blown by its wind to the street they call Straight.
I for one enjoy it:
the slow, steady bursting from soil,
those optimistic points of green poking sunward,
the outward spread of tiny tufts,
the promise of patience rewarded.
And so daily I take my little son outside
to see the garden, to “check on the grass”.
All moments are wonders to him, yet I
share the wonder of brown transformed to slow-filling lawn,
the chance that next summer he’ll have carpet for play here,
and I marvel that all our endurance pays off.
I am less inclined to love how stone turns to flesh,
fighting – as it must – against the moss and ivy surrounding it;
less inclined to delight in the decades that it takes
for internal soil to be tilled,
for pruning, manure, for all that needs patience
and costs me myself.
While I daily visit these microscopic green thoughts,
my own garden I have neglected.
Turn over the clumps of dirt; wait another year;
my stubborn tree must one day show fruit.
Hope deferred finds patience no virtue.
Something ends here:
paused mid-threat, flung groundward,
the man called Saul can breathe no more murder
while the horse kicks up its hooves and he points
his arms half-desperate at heaven.
Something begins here
yet it looks altogether like dying:
the fall, the pervasive dark,
the eyes failing to see, and yet
the spirit cognisant like never before.
I will show him how much he must suffer.
All this awaits, after the falling of scales;
now is the dying; the blindness preceding sight.
Must resurrection look like this?
With groans of creation, Saul will rise,
and Paul will live anew.
How like him to appear this way:
a walk alongside the mourners,
an attentive ear, a willingness to linger,
and then – the climax –
seated at table,
bread, the beloved symbol, poised in hand,
and at its breaking
all finally clear.
How like him
who broke bread with Zaccheus,
with Levi, with Judas.
How very like the bread Himself
to be broken, then to be known.