--for Linda, anniversary 2017
This was our long path, my love,
and these the evidences of our climb:
these worn treads and missing lugs,
these frayed and mismatched laces,
these abraded gaping tears
along the lowers of our boots.
The granite talus tore our insteps,
chipped away the outsoles,
peeled the heel counters free to flap,
and rolled the toe rands raw.
See the mud still caked in the seams,
the rags of tundra in the stitching?
These are the wounds that came
by wedging feet among the boulders
high above the alpine slopes.
We promised at these heights
to see what we came looking for,
the moss campion, arctic lupine,
gentian, and mountain maven.
We have come here now and so
bear witness to these fragile denizens
resurrected to perdurable beauty.
Who could know that there would be
for us a love like this, hiding high,
waiting on our wounded feet
to bear it down in season?
On Rock and Roll Played by Old Men
Young and lithe, arms twined above her,
she spins to music spun by old men,
gray men, men whose visages
look never to have been young.
Her high breasts and lean thighs
betray their sagging jowls and bellies,
her dark, flying tresses mock
their thin ashen strands. And yet
she smiles with them, to them.
Her feet touch lightly across the floor,
while they, in unbroken rhythm,
low and high, pluck ripe memories.
My initial comments will make most (or least) sense to my fellow Christians, but I hope the gist of them and my final comments introducing the poem will make sense to anyone at all who believes that our love (romantic and otherwise) is meaningful and beautiful, unless we selfishly make it otherwise.
Traditional readings of the Songs of Solomon have tended to shy away from the overt sensuality of the poem, at times straining even to acknowledge it at any level as a very human love poem. Instead, finding it uncomfortable yoking the sensual and the spiritual, scholars have "spiritualized" the text to the point of, in my opinion, robbing it of its human vitality. More accurately stated, it has seemed to me that biblical interpreters have robbed the poem of its deeply incarnational message--even as they insist that the poem is, in the end, all about Jesus as the groom and his people as the bride. By doing so, they rob human love, including sexual love, of its incarnational value. What do I mean by "incarnational" value? Simply put (though not at all simple): God's spirit working in us and through us, in the totality of our humanity, that inseparable unity of body, soul, and mind, and in and through our human community (marriage, friendship, a fellowship of believers, etc.). Years ago, one friend said of sex that "God has ordained the marital passion pit." Pit? Why "pit"? A low place? A hole in the ground? What good things happen in pits?! And while I can agree with the theological gist of what my friend said apart from that horrid word, "pit," I do not feel inclined to keep the subject--or the act--so emotionally distant by "elevating" it with such formal language, while also consigning it to whatever sort of pit my friend had in mind. Ugh.
I grew up in a social and religious tradition that did not know how to speak of human love, especially sexual love, without great discomfort, as physicality was virtually equated with temptation and sin, the body being the source of the worst temptations and thus the source of the worst evils. I find all of that to be very sad and destructive, and even unspiritual, but I will not attempt here to lay out explanations. Instead, I will ask you to read my poem.
Song for the Incarnate
down a dark vacancy and dank
I rock legs drawn up head dropped
arms taut like hemp rope trussed
around knees knowing one thing
I fear my dear damn Self the most
don’t let me rail revile rage dear
against my world I will destroy it
oh my darling your deep breasts
like twin gazelles your neck nubile
ivory tower heart pulse warm
your hair a wild paradise pillow
of silk river I lie down beside you
my left arm cradling your nape
my right hand caressing, loveliness
oh, calm me from my rage
my love my queen incarnadine
and drown me draw me in
darling deep pools your eyes
I breathe your nectar sweet aroma
I taste your tongue I love you
oh my God love me with her body
This poem from my book in progress, ON COLD MORNINGS, begin this new blog series. I will occasionally include some musing on the subject of what I call "the problem of beauty." My thinking often turns to a question: How do we properly acknowledge, appreciate, perhaps even celebrate natural beauty (human and otherwise), without becoming possessive or exploitative?
I think it fair to say that we do not have adequate answers to that question; indeed, we so quickly become possessive and exploitative. We see a beautiful mountain or forest, and we begin immediately to dream of grasping some part of it for ourselves or of plundering its resources for profit. Our having does not satisfy, so we imagine having more. Our profits do not satisfy, so we work tirelessly to increase them, in order to fund our expanding possession.
I see the "problem of beauty" as relevant to our relationship to Mother Nature generally, but most specifically and acutely relevant to men's relationship to women, and thus, to female beauty. In regards to women, and to female beauty specifically, our testosterone-driven tendency toward exploitation and control seems relentless and rapacious. From one culture to the next, we stagger wildly from brutal suppression, on the one hand, to naked display for entertainment, on the other. Both responses serve an auto-erotic male interest and male empowerment. I do not pretend in these poems to have an answer to my own question or a solution to the problem as I see it. I mean only to explore the issue, hoping, as I do so, neither to hold back in fear nor to exploit.
On Cold Mornings
On cold mornings,
while some complain as they sit
tucked within their warm offices,
I want to play hide and seek
in the snow with children until
my blue lips are too numb to speak.
among stiff bodies standing,
I too stand stiffly, recalling
how I dance when I pray alone.
I hold in my laughter, imagining
all of us dancing in long underwear,
like saints in robes abandoned to joy.
At a funeral,
while a pastor lies about the old bastard
or the faithful greive madly as if faithless,
I feel an urge to curse and mock
and dare them to call down holy fire,
or tell them as I leave that I’m bored.
Only life is intetesting
in all the truth and beauty of it.
In my prayers,
images of women distract me.
I ask, Father, how do I love them
without sinning yet with joy
at your beauty in them,
breast, thigh, groin, eye.
On any day,
wherever I fear my protests
like screams may echo,
betraying the hollowness of earth
and sky and heart, I want to fall
weeping, kissing hungrily the neck,
the warm supple neck of one
who understands all of this,
oh Lord, I pray.