Poetry

On Rockaway Beach

I went down to the beach and listened
while the ocean roared at me.
It got my attention, so I sat on the sand
like a student at a classroomdesk.
At length I learned its language,
strange and sad.
It had seen me and my type before,
a thousand times, ten thousand times
ten thousand, times
past counting or caring. We all
ran to the beach, and cried,
and sang, and worried, and died, running
into its sunlit surf.
It had seen it all—that was why it spoke with the voice
of deathless despair. It had seen the first Leviathan born, struggling
with an infant’s defiance out of its egg. It had seen
the animals come, shuffling and blinking out of the forests.
It had seen
men arise, newcomers under the sky, tentative,
vigorous,
doomed. All of them, all, down
to the last, marching relentlessly, single file,
singing or silent, into
its cold, covering waves.
It had seen it all. The mute rocks
were its brothers, and the blind sky.
I listened to its pounding lessons and learned:
the noise was time’s loud lamentation,
its waters, the salty tears of God.


Three Songs: a Triptych of Love

I

The baby was crying (as all babies do), tiny lungs tearing
the still air of a Bethlehem midnight, inconsolable, wracked
with gas or indigestion or
some secret knowledge of Herod’s Hooves approaching
to paint the little town red with
the spilled blood of prophecy.  His mother was singing softly over
His tears, a gentle Hebrew lullaby to drown out the frantic wailing.
Joseph was packing the last pan on the donkey, dream-born fears speeding
his fingers as they prepared for their flight.  The young mother’s song
was having no effect whatever,
but still she bent over Him and whispered the melody
like a family incantation, and prayed,
and prayed,
and the sweet notes lingered long in the air like a supplication:
the Mother of God, singing to her Son.

II

The afternoon sky was black as midnight as she knelt
at the foot of death and cradled in her arms the nailtorn corpse.
The blood from His scourged back stained her sleeves as she rock back
and forth, back
and forth, shrieking like a mad woman, wailing
out the grief of the world, inconsolable,
wracked with a swordthrust that pierced her heart.
The sounds she made were unintelligible, but still
she kept wailing, still the sound
poured from her lips, like blood from an open wound.
The terrible sound hammered the hearts of all who heard,
and men clamped their hands over their ears to stop the endless lament:
the Mother of God, singing to her Son.

III

In the high halls,
an endless multitude offers hymns to Christ enthroned,
crying out with full throats, and the sound
drowns earthly sorrows like a mighty flood.
One song
ascends above the others, humbling the descant
of the cherubim and seraphim, its victorious notes
lingering long over the whole assembly like a pillar of fire.
The song is wild as the winds of Pentecost,
a hurricane of joy, an ecstatic storm of exultation, tearing
and melting and filling and breaking the heart,
and all those who stand before the throne
fall silent as they drink it in,
and listen and wonder and weep and pray
that it will never stop:
the Mother of God, singing to her Son.
Mrs. Pilate's Dream

I never wanted to come to this god-forsaken Jewish outback.
Even in the spring it’s too hot to sleep, and when I do, I am haunted
by dreams.
Last night a particularly bad one fell on me like a fever: 
you were surrounded by screaming men, and your hands dripped
with blood.  You scrubbed and scrubbed,
but the redness remained, like a gaping wound which would not heal, a grin
which would not fade.
Then the screaming men became thin and hungry, and when I looked 
at their bellies,
each one was pierced by a Roman javelin.
Then they vanished, and one man remained, the only one
who never screamed, who never spoke,
not even a word. 
He merely looked at you, and in his eyes, I saw the death of Rome,
its high towers falling in fire.
We always dreamed you would win fame from the Emperor in this place,
and that your name would be remembered for generations.
Now I only want to go home and be forgotten.  But I fear
it will never be.
Age upon age, your name will go on, like the sentence of the damned.
My dream ended with your name being sung by a numberless throng,
not in praise, but like a cypher, as one passes a dead man 
without seeing him.
Though I did not understand it,
each syllable fell on my heart like the words of a death sentence:
“He was crucified under Pontius Pilate”.
If you meet a man who will not speak to you,
have nothing to do with him.

For St. Nicholas and the Children (for a fund-raising auction for a church camp)

To this worthy evening we bring
all our adult sophistication, all of it
slowly and painfully learned:  evening dress and polite applause, 
cheque books and good intentions. 
To this worthy evening we bring the best
we have to offer:  music and poetry, the skill of heart and finger, (hardwired into our tired frames),
all the colours of our inner palettes, painstakingly crafted into 
an offering of beauty.
It’s all nonsense, really.
All an excuse to stand before the children as they run and play, and scream and run, and play and jump.
A camp for five days or a schoolyard recess for ten minutes:  
it’s all the same to us—a time for us adults
to crowd round a small window and peer tearfully into a lost world.
The children (St. Nicholas could have told you) are the ones 
with the real gifts:  faces to outshine
the sun, musical laughter to turn the red robin green with envy. 
Our evening sophistication hangs loosely upon us 
(like adultclothes on children playing dress-up),
as we watch them play and try hard not to join them, 
hanging upsidedown on the monkeybars or squealing 
as we go down the slide.
We keep our adult faces intact (our own parents paid good money 
for those masks),
and we allow ourselves to intone, “Aren’t They Cute.”
St. Nicholas can read our silent subtitles and see our aching hearts.
We really mean, “I Want to Play in Paradise Too.”


Buried Alive (for the working Christian man)

Like a Welsh minor, (black
with the coal of daily despair) he descends into the depths of the night shift, 
or the evening shift or 
the long shadows of daily retail, and all for
the love of his family, and his God.  Punch the clock before
it punches you, and leaves you gasping and bruised, battered
in the a boxing round that will never end.
The mine into which he drops every day admits
no glimmer of light, no reminder of the heaven above, no
promise of the coming dawn.  Buried alive, 
he moves in the mine, and lifts
his shovel, and endures another day.
The only light shines, not from his head-lamp, but
from his heart, as he mines the hard rock of another day,
and finds the gold, the divine promise
of His eternal reward in the Kingdom,
far from the mines below, on the pinnacle of a mountain
which will fill the whole earth.


For Marilyn

In every antique-store I see her
face and form and those legendary legs:
Marilyn Monroe, her pictures perched
among tasteless knickknacks and
second-hand shlock, presiding over the forgotten and worthless
like some high-priestess of despair.
As if her short life hadn’t already its full overflowing share
of tragedy and exploitation, there she is—in shop
after depressing shop, radiant youth beaming
eternally amidst age and amnesia, as if
those come-hither eyes didn’t see
her present surroundings, as if
she didn’t know that she sat besieged
by Elvis bobble-heads and coke-bottle lamps and picture-puzzles of
Oregon and
a thousand merry multitude of marked-down bargains, all of them
predestined for the dumpster.
The sands of time run out
even for hourglass figures.
She has no one
to rescue her, no troubadour to comfort her,
no knight in shining armor to save her from her tower
in a thousand antique-stores.
I am guilty too.
I stare long at her full and matchless form
and walk out.

 After visiting many antique stores in Oregon.


Here’s to the Israelite Judges

Here’s to the Israelite judges:
lying facedown and forgotten, buried
in the backpages, doomed to molder, their very names
left unpronounced by all save German scholars
who sit in towers of Teutonic irrelevance,
scribbling unreadable tomes for the anaemic.
They deserved better.

Here’s to the Israelite judges:
not old men who sit heavily on British benches,
white wigs perched ridiculously on bald pates
consulting books, handing out sentences,
but young men, running furiously down foothills,
their hot blood intent on their cold swords,
shouting wildly to the wind about God and death and freedom,
young men whose arms hugged their women hard
and hoisted their children high,
and brandished their swords swiftly
so that their flashing could illumine the pagan darkness.

Here’s to the Israelite judges:  freedom fighters all
who died and defied their oppressors, using
an oxgoad and an ass’s jawbone to leave
their vandalizing mark
on Philistine apartheid
and Midianite swastika.

Here’s to the Israelite judges:  in our day (when
every man does whatever is right in his own eyes)
may they arise again from the Bible’s backpages, throwing off
their graveclothes of obscurity
and shout to us of freedom and courage and martyr’s blood.

Here’s to them!  Even now they are arising,
one after another, from their graves,
putting the dagger of daring in our trembling hands
and a shout of exultation in our too-long-silent throats.


A Poem for Jane Austen and Tom

First Impressions can deceive, but first love never, be it ever
so boyish.  First love
cuts to the heart, cruelly relentless as the Word of God, 
piercing through young skin, and muscles, and bones, 
piercing through joints and marrow, piercing
through soul and spirit, leaving its mark forever 
upon the heart, a scar that never fades, a pain that never leaves.  
There is no justice in life,
even for a Lord Chief Justice enthroned on a bench.  
Only in immortal novels
is love immortal and triumphant, only in printed pages 
can a man stand on the prow of the future 
and be The King Of The World.  In life
love is thwarted with a bang which hammers the heart
like a judge’s gavel. 
But like the two-edged sword that cuts us open and makes us bleed, 
love is living and active.  Buried in the heart, 
it stays hidden from all, waiting
with the patience of God.  Waiting
until novelists die, waiting until years and decades die, waiting
until centuries grow old and sicken and collide with the Coming
and the tear-stained pages of our history burn
with the fire of the world’s only Happy Ending. 
Then
it rises from its hiding place to find fulfillment, not in sex (that weak
and wilting thing), but in an endless song, a quiet walk together 
through the galaxies,
a chalice of healing shared by all pierced hearts.
                                                                                  
 Jane Austen’s first love was Tom Lefroy, later Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.  His love for her he described as “boyish love”.  Her novel “Pride and Prejudice” was originally entitled, “First Impressions”.


The facts are these, gathered like panned-for gold from the mud and dreck of a hundred stupid biographies: 
on August 1, 1957 Marilyn Monroe lost a baby through an ectopic pregnancy. 
On December 16, 1958 she lost another child. 
Marilyn Monroe herself died by accidental overdose on the evening of August 4, 1962.

The poetic lines are these:

Who Prays for Marilyn?

Who prays for Marilyn, worshipped on walls and celluloid, exploited in a thousand
graverobbing books,  America’s Irresistible Irony,
the Sex Goddess Who Could Not Breed.  Not
that she didn’t try:  one child
who strayed like a naughty brat into a place where it had no business,
a forbidden fallopian hideaway.  It grew and swelled like a happy hopeful cancer until
a furrow-browed, do-gooding doctor took it by the scruff of its neck and whisked it out of the world.
It sibling tried to cling by its tiny unborn fingernails to a small patch of unscarred womb for a few weeks, only to be swept away, drowned in a tsunami of blood and washed too early down the menstrual drain.
Both of them unborn and unbaptized,
unnamed and unphotographed, with
no leering paparazzi to blind them with flash bulbs and declare
in Hollywood headlines MARILYN GIVES BIRTH TO BEAUTIFUL BABY.
Afterward she crawled into her room and slammed the door in God’s face, hanging
on her Hollywood cross as she spat out,
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” and washed down fistfuls of pills, all the better
to summon like a lover to her bed sweet unconsciousness, a dreamless sleep
to fight off the fenris wolf of memory.
She joined the little ones soon enough, and was buried in a blond wig and a green Pucci dress.
The face, the arms, the breasts, the legs, all of them have gone;
famished Father Time has devoured the tasty morsel, Saturn eating up his children, and the wig and the dress
now hang like lurid obscenities on her white bones which lie marinating in the passing of putrefying years.
The horror now lies hidden in a box, labelled only
“Marilyn Monroe
1926 – 1962”:
no epitaph, no cross, no prayer, only
her name and the sad dates, inviting everyone who never knew her
to write another stupid book.
Who prays for Marilyn?
Fear not, blond goddess:  high above the stars, two children pray for their mother, trying to imagine
a face they never saw.  Like all the army of the miscarried,
they heard only heartbeat and muffled voice, which they carry
like a prayer to the throne of God.
Fear not, poor dead Marilyn:  somewhere beyond the galaxies two tiny tapers burn,
offering unwavering prayer
for a candle in the wind.