Sunday Soldiers (Poem)

A poem from my new (draft) book of poems, Brown Studies

Sunday Soldiers

In memory of Jake Adam York, poet

(‘Sunday Soldiers’ was Civil War slang for unsuitable soldiers)

1.We drive from Auburn to Columbus

Sunday march to church

He sits in the back seat and studies

My earmarked copy of Descartes’ Meditations

“What a marvelous book!  I want

To clap my hands after every sentence!”

2. Beside me, working for breath

Is his wife, her head pulled

Toward her feet by Parkinson’s 

Cramping her lungs

Her whole body

Making a fist

Against her will

3. She whispers the Preparation for Confession:

Purity of heart is to will one thing

We pass the site of a Sunday morning 

Flea market, a makeshift booth 

Flies a Confederate flag

He sees it, crosses himself, 

Notices me watching

In the rearview mirror

“It’s the flag of my country!”

4. So it is, although he is not so aged

That he can remember that country,

Yet he commemorates it, venerates it,

Notes often that his country died game

Under the heels of well shod Blue Bellies

5. What am I to say?  He is a saint,

An exemplar–in every way 

But this way

May a saint be a Grey Back,

May he venerate the South, that South,

Without damning himself, 

Rendering his soul shoddy?

6. Driving the car,

Meditating on David—and Bathsheba

On Moses—and the rock

On David contrite, forced to leave

Building the Temple to others,

On Moses abashed, on the mountain

Overlooking the Promised Land

7. Driving the car west

Meditating on North and South

Meditating on right and wrong,

Meditating on vision and blindness

And their confederacy in the heart,

–In his heart, in my heart, in your heart:

We venerate hateful flags, 

We are all Sunday Soldiers

I was Looking a Long While (Whitman)

I WAS looking a long while for a clue to the history of the past for myself, and for these chants—and now I have found it;
It is not in those paged fables in the libraries, (them I neither accept nor reject;)
It is no more in the legends than in all else;
It is in the present—it is this earth to-day;
It is in Democracy—(the purport and aim of all the past;)
It is the life of one man or one woman to-day—the average man of to-day;
It is in languages, social customs, literatures, arts;
It is in the broad show of artificial things, ships, machinery, politics, creeds, modern improvements, and the interchange of nations,
All for the average man of to-day.

Merton Paper, Intro

Here’re the first paragraphs of the introduction to my new Merton paper, “Under a Doom-shaped Sky, Or Hats off to the Human Condition”.  The paper discusses Merton’s book-length poem, Cables to the Ace.  There are a couple of qualifying footnotes to these paragraphs, but I have omitted them.

*******

Orienting

Worship is a norm of human life.  Merton knew this–knew what David Foster Wallace knew when he later commented:  “Everybody worships.”  Merton’s alternative title for Cables is Some Familiar Liturgies of Misunderstanding.  —Liturgies because human life lives up to its nature almost always already in this one respect:  it is worshipful.  The question is not typically whether it is worshipful, but what is worshipped, and even more, how it is worshipped–because here the how determines the what. Merton’s poem repeats the basic structure of liturgy; it is loosely composed of litanies, entrances, hymns, homilies, etc.  –Merton’s poem is familiar liturgies in two senses.  First, it is largely, almost entirely in the vernacular.  And, second, and more important, because what it liturgizes is modern life, our ordinary life (despite the fifty years between the poem’s publication and now).  Even those parts of the poem hard to understand create the nagging feel of a song you recognize but cannot name. The words of Cables are on the tips of our tongues. –The poem is familiar liturgies of misunderstanding because the liturgies are wrong–worshipful in the wrong way, worshipful of the wrong object.  And because they are, they are display the way our lives are down-destroyed instead of upbuilt by our life, our life with our language, a life we cannot avoid, even in silence.  These are liturgies of deformation, not of formation. They are the bad news; they are the tidings of unhope.

Let me start by dwelling on that last point.  Christian liturgy upbuilds. That is not all it does, of course.  Its intentional structure is worshipful, worshipful of the triune God.  Participants in it are thus ordered toward God, not toward themselves.  But in virtue of participating in what is ordered toward God, they are themselves ordered toward God, and such ordering is always upbuilding. Now, this is not two different intentional structures, a worshipful one and an upbuilding one.  It is one structure that has a particular effect on its participants in virtue of their participation.  To the extent that we enter into the how of the liturgy, we reach toward its what, its object, but participating in the how also changes our what, what we are.  Participant liturgical knowledge is connatural knowledge–and that is a bit of grammar.  We become what we know and know what we become:  blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

This is importantly reverse-true of what Merton takes to be our familiar, unChristian liturgies, our liturgies of misunderstanding. Cursed are the impure in heart, for they shall see UnGod, Gog or Magog, the False. Our participation in these liturgies results in our deformation.  We become what we ‘know’ and ‘know’ what we become.  Connatural ‘knowledge’, in this case, is damning ‘knowledge’. ‘Knowing’ nothing we hasten our own nothingness.

Just Let Me Say This About That (Poem)

 

from the end of John Bricuth’s brilliant poem (the speaker is either God, the President, everybody’s father, or a combination of the three):

I know you’ll laugh at this, my thoughts began
To clear. I had a kind of revelation, Fish,
That burst of level lighting one associates

With several types of Eastern wisdom–
The seven ways, the twelve steps, the four
Tops, the three pigs–I don’t know…

I know it had a number in it, Fox,
And with that blinding flash I knew, boys, nothing
Quite restores the rush of vigor to

The blood, the vital fire along the veins
And in the loins to rein the wild horses
Of desire, that taste of life’s late richness,

Its ultimate bouquet, its sauce supreme
That makes you feel, Fish, you could live forever,
No, nothing quite gives back that special thrill,

Seeing we’re Americans, like going
Out and killing something, something on
Two legs that’s short and foreign, name chock full

Of consonants, or something furred or feathered,
Or failing that, with scales. Fox, don’t you
Find that so? that nothing really beats

The heady moment of sweet contrast when,
To make a phrase, they’re laid out like a lox,
And you are not. And isn’t that when all life’s

Puzzles fit, mysteries fall flat?
Tell me, don’t you find it so, Fox? Fox?
Bird? Fish? Now where did those three go?

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