Thursday, November 10, 2005


Therefore, we must pay much close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. I am an example of this Hebrews. I have drifted in spirit, though I used to fight passionately to pay attention. Perhaps I fought in the wrong way, perhaps I was destined to fail, but regardless, I am now drifting. Whether nearer or further, it is a matter of perspective.
But I fear, and no longer rejoice, that what the angels declared to us has proved and will prove reliable, and that every transgression and disobediance will be punished with a just retribution. How shall I escape since if I continue to neglect so great a salvation? It was declared to us by the Lord, and attested to us by many people who lived so long ago, who we believe heard the lord speaking in the dusty courtyards of Jerusalem, and if that wasn't enough, God Himself also bore witness to us through signs and wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the spirit distributed according to His will. These gifts of the spirit might bear witness today as well, if we lived in the spirit. If I lived in the spirit of Christ, and not in the spirit of Drifting Away.
For it was not to the angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking, for which we long even as we drift. It has been testified somewhere, some time long ago,

What is man that you are mindful of him?
The son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little while lower than the angels.
You have crowned Him with honor and glory,
and have put everything in subjection under his feet.

In putting everything under subjection to him, he left nothing outside of his control. At present, we do not see everything in subjection to him. At present, we see everything drifting and breaking and dying, haunted with a living light that cannot be attained. At present.
At present? Lord we long for Your light to fill our limbs, so that by the power of grace through faith in the Spirit of Christ, we might become righteous men and women, holy men and women - men and women who are able to stand in a living world of flesh and spit and feathers and dirt, and smile and shout "Hallelujah! The Lord is good!"

But all we see, all we can see, is Him, the ancient picture of Him,

who for a little while was made lower than the angels, who was forsaken by his friends, kissed by his enemies, who touched the dead and diseased with tenderness and care and whose body was broken, whose side was rammed with a roman spear, who was crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death,
so that by the grace of God he might taste the thin, foul, dark flavor of death
for everyone.

Who is this King of Glory?

How shall I know Him?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Long Way

If I am traveling in the rain toward
a distant black nexus on the underbelly
of a stormcloud, the lightning
always beats me there.

The lightning flashes again and again
reinflaming the swelling mass of black cloud-tissue
with radiating volts the color of plumflesh.

I watch, and walk.

A blue rain issues out of the cloud, suddenly,
released, a torrent, then ebbing
waxing, spattering down to a few drops.

Then a break of light, bright orange and warm
through the broken cloud and my point of destination
is wholly new, and horses thunder the ground around me
misting my goal with their sweat and smoke.

A hawk hangs in the air, just there.

All cloud is swept away and flowers open beneath
with bright mandarin petals, heavy with pollen.
The air is dried to the point of static.
A clarity of sense and sight of all creatures
hums, buzzes.

And it stays overlong. Till the point of an over-repeated song,
and your eyes stray, yet
you stay on course.

You stay on the long way
through the transformation of the thing
you thought you knew by sight.

When along, perhaps, it was only
an abstract point
in the matrix of light.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


This morning Kierkegaard
lit my cigarette.
I leapt up from the cafe table
"This present age!
We have neither passion nor reflection!
We are like lukewarm boneless
chicken breasts thawing slowly
in the microwave, on low!"
When I landed back into my seat
I looked immediately at Kierkegaard & saw
the black point of a devilish grin begin
high up beneath the cheek bone on the left side of his face
then slowly stretch & slither across the gaunt terrain
to the darkened arc of the other side, until
with a shuffle & a slurp of spit, it collapsed
down to the "o" around his own cigarette
which he also lit.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Some Further Words

by Wendell Berry

Let me be plain with you, dear reader.

I am an old-fashioned man. I like
the world of nature despite its mortal
dangers. I like the domestic world
of humans, so long as it pays its debts
to the natural world, and keeps its bounds.
I like the promise of Heaven. My purpose
is a language that can repay just thanks
and honor for those gifts, a tongue
set free from fashionable lies.

Neither this world nor any of its places
is an "environment." And a house
for sale is not a "home." Economics
is not "science," nor "information" knowledge.
A knave with a degree is a knave. A fool
in a public office is not a "leader."
A rich thief is a thief. And the ghost
of Arthur Moore, who taught me Chaucer,
returns in the night to say again:
"Let me tell you something, boy.
An intellectual whore is a whore."

The world is babbled to pieces after
the divorce of things from their names.
Ceaseless preparation for war
is not peace. Health is not procured
by sale of medication, or purity
by the addition of poison. Science
at the bidding of the corporations
is knowledge reduced to merchandise;
it is a whoredom of the mind,
and so is the art that calls this "progress."
So is the cowardice that calls it "inevitable."

I think the issues of "identity" mostly
are poppycock. We are what we have done,
which includes our promises, includes
our hopes, but promises first. I know
a "fetus" is a human child.
I loved my children from the time
they were conceived, having loved
their mother, who loved them
from the time they were conceived
and before. Who are we to say
the world did not begin in love?

I would like to die in love as I was born,
and as myself of life impoverished go
into the love all flesh begins
and ends in. I don't like machines,
which are neither mortal nor immortal,
though I am constrained to use them.
(Thus the age perfects its clench.)
Some day they will be gone, and that
will be a glad and a holy day.
I mean the dire machines that run
by burning the world's body and
its breath. When I see an airplane
fuming through the once-pure sky
or a vehicle of the outer space
with its little inner space
imitating a star at night, I say,
"Get out of there!" as I would speak
to a fox or a thief in the henhouse.
When I hear the stock market has fallen,
I say, "Long live gravity! Long live
stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces
of fantasy capitalism!" I think
an economy should be based on thrift,
on taking care of things, not on theft,
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.

My purpose is a language that can make us whole,
though mortal, ignorant, and small.
The world is whole beyond human knowing.
The body's life is its own, untouched
by the little clockwork of explanation.
I approve of death, when it comes in time
to the old. I don't want to five
on mortal terms forever, or survive
an hour as a cooling stew of pieces
of other people. I don't believe that life
or knowledge can be given by machines.
The machine economy has set afire
the household of the human soul,
and all the creatures are burning within it

"Intellectual property" names
the deed by which the mind is bought
and sold, the world enslaved. We
who do not own ourselves, being free,
own by theft what belongs to God,
to the living world, and equally
to us all. Or how can we own a part
of what we only can possess
entirely? Life is a gift we have
only by giving it back again.
Let us agree: "the laborer is worthy
of his hire," but he cannot own what he knows,
which must be freely told, or labor
dies with the laborer. The farmer
is worthy of the harvest made
in time, but he must leave the light
by which he planted, grew, and reaped,
the seed immortal in mortality,
freely to the time to come. The land
too he keeps by giving it up,
as the thinker receives and gives a thought,
as the singer sings in the common air.

I don't believe that "scientific genius"
in its naive assertions of power
is equal either to nature or
to human culture. Its thoughtless invasions
of the nuclei of atoms and cells
and this world's every habitation
have not brought us to the light
but sent us wandering farther through
the dark. Nor do I believe
.artistic genius" is the possession
of any artist. No one has made
the art by which one makes the works
of art. Each one who speaks speaks
as a convocation. We live as councils
of ghosts. It is not "human genius"
that makes us human, but an old love,
an old intelligence of the heart
we gather to us from the world,
from the creatures, from the angels
of inspiration, from the dead--
an intelligence merely nonexistent
to those who do not have it, but --
to those who have it more dear than life.

And just as tenderly to be known
are the affections that make a woman and a man
their household and their homeland one.
These too, though known, cannot be told
to those who do not know them, and fewer
of us learn them, year by year.
These affections are leaving the world
like the colors of extinct birds,
like the songs of a dead language.

Think of the genius of the animals,
every one truly what it is:
gnat, fox, minnow, swallow, each made
of light and luminous within itself.
They know (better than we do) how
to live in the places where they live.
And so I would like to be a true
human being, dear reader-a choice
not altogether possible now.
But this is what I'm for, the side
I'm on. And this is what you should
expect of me, as I expect it of
myself, though for realization we
may wait a thousand or a million years.

May-August, 2001

Didactic Poetry

I recently picked up Wendell Berry's new book of poetry Given. Within it is a poem called "Some Further Words". It is, more so than any poem I have read outside of the Biblical poetry, what one might call "didactic".
That is, Berry takes one thumb and loops it through his suspender strap, and the other farm-calloused hand he extends and firmly places on your shoulder. He tells you something. He believes something about the world - about the relationship between human-beings, trees, beasts and the clouds over his head - and he explains this to you.
In an age where belief in any kind of universal knowledge is mocked, didactic poetry is little more than a joke. I am sure that many see Berry as a quaint old farmer prattling on harmlessly.
Poe wasn't the first to attack didactic poetry, I'm sure, but he surely did so in a vivid manner. "Heresy" he called it, in his essay The Poetic Principle. His scathing condescension for anyone foolish enough to give credibility to didactic poetry hinges upon the belief that truth, and its explication, has no home within the pathos-charged field of poetry.
That is where he differs from the snickering intellectuals of today's literary world. They know something he did not; that no such thing as truth exists. We are, suffice to say, chemical, and poetry is little more than chemical.
"Literary despair" is what Carver Yu famously called it, and the intellectuals of today have taken this for granted. They have become quite used to the huge aching vacuum in poetry where Truth used to have residence. Poetry has become either trite mystical descriptions and half-prophecies unbelieved in or, as Berry puts it, "one long note of woe."

Berry is interested in life. He is interested in humanity. His interest is seen in his lifestyle, and not in his words. His words spring out of his lifestyle. His life and words teach each other.

He is a good man, full of wisdom. I am honored that he would take me by the shoulder look me in the eye and say (as quoted in an interview with Mr. Berry in 1999):

"Well, be a little steady now. No, you can't quit, you're not finished yet."