Isaiah and the Seraph

Chagall_Isaiah_1968
Marc Chagall, “The Prophet Isaiah”

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.

Learning Father (II): For Eli

…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk…
(Hosea 11:3)

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 –
where next?
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
to walk.
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.

Damascus 2: Pentecost

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)
Caravaggio, “Conversion on the way to Damascus”, c1601

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.

Watching Grass Grow

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.

Damascus 1

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)
Caravaggio, “Conversion on the way to Damascus” (c.1600-1601

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.

“…and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Emmaus 3)

unnamed
Caravaggio, “The Supper at Emmaus”, c.1606

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.

Chiaroscuro

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Caravaggio, “The Supper at Emmaus”, c.1606

To Cleopas and his friend,
the revelation and its impact no doubt stuck.
Their paradigm, irremediably shifted, could hardly go back.
Such things as resurrections we don’t
forget in any hurry.

Yet for those serving at table, I wonder:
did the light dawn so quickly, so decisively?
More or less a normal night’s work,
and that constant attempt not to eavesdrop
or at least not be seen doing so.

And then, some vague but growing sense
that here was a light altogether different in quality,
such that everything else was jet in the background,
that here was a customer who transformed the meals he ate
and left behind more than he took.

Perhaps, on the table,
after he left, as though spirited away,
in place of the customary tip a piece
of bread leftover, and a cup of wine,
and with the skeleton of the fish course lingering on the plate,
a parchment asking silently,
“Shall these dry bones live?”