In my first post here at the Best American Poetry blog, I outlined my perspective on the devotional mode in poetry; in my second post, I offered some samples of work from my forthcoming anthology, Poems of Devotion (Wipf & Stock, Nov. 30, 2012); in my third post, I discussed virtuosity and simplicity in art. For my final post, I'd like to offer a few more samples from Poems of Devotion. I offer them without comment, except for a few notes:
1. Robert Seigel, "A.M.": Pentecost is the biblical event when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples, appearing as tongues of flame. (See Acts 2.)
2. Malachi Black, "from Quarantine": According to the author, "Cast as a crown of sonnets, the ten movements of Quarantine derive their logic and arrangement from the Christian monastic prayer cycle known generally as the canonical hours (horae canonicae). Quarantine traces the passage of one day, from predawn prayer ('Lauds') through sunrise ('Prime'), morning ('Terce'), midday ('Sext'), afternoon ('None'), sundown ('Vespers'), night ('Nocturne'), midnight ('Vigils'), and concludes at early morning ('Matins')."
3. Anna Connors is the youngest poet included in the anthology. She was a student in two of the undergraduate writing classes I taught as a graduate student at Indiana University. She is remarkably precocious. She is an immensely talented poet and is accomplished in a host of academic areas. I, for one, eagerly await the work she will produce over her lifetime.
ROBERT SEIGEL (b. 1939)
Yellow flames flutter
about the feeder:
a Pentecost of finches.
*"A.M." is reprinted from A Pentecost of Finches: New & Selected Poems (Paraclete Press, 2006), copyright 2006 by Robert Seigel, by permission of the author.
MALACHI BLACK (b. 1982)
I have known you as an opening
of curtains as a light blurts through
the sky. But this is afternoon
and afternoon is not the time
to hunt you with the hot globe
of a human eye. So I fluster
like a crooked broom in rounds
within the living room, and try
to lift an ear to you. I try.
I cut myself into a cave for you.
To be a trilling blindness
in the infinite vibration
of your murmuring July,
I cut myself into a cave for you.
My Lord, you are the one:
your breath has blown away
the visionary sun
and now suffocates the skyline
with a dusk. If only once,
I wish that you could shudder
with my pulse, double over
and convulse on the stitches
in the skin that I slash wishes in.
But, Lord, you are the gulf
between the hoped-for
and the happening:
You’ve won. So what is left for me
when what is left for me has come?
*"Sext" and "Vespers" are reprinted from Quarantine (Argos Books, 2012), copyright 2012 by Malachi Black, by permission of the author.
PHILIP METRES (b. 1970)
from “A Book of Hours”*
You threw me down, Lord, on the bed
I did not know I was making, unmade,
Your arms held me down, Lord, and I could feel
The panic of stasis, could taste the bitter
Of ends, the tunnel of unbreathing,
Lord, you pressed your terrible weight
Against the whole length of my indivisible
Body, your invisible inexorable weight,
Your hands around my neck until I could see
Nothing but the black in front of me,
Your hurting whole behind me, in me now
Shivering, praying for this prison of skin
To release this voice to air, that these needle nerves
Unshackle the this I am, the this you are.
Lord, I am not worthy, I am unweal-
Thy without you, but I am not unwilled,
Am not still in you. Yes, my soul is rest-
Less and does not rest in you, my Lord,
And I’m not ready to be seized by you
In receiving you. Unsteady in swells
Of you, I’m unmasted in the squall of you
In the sea of you, cannot outlast you.
But only say the word and I shall be
Hurled from all hurt, thrown beyond shoals, unswal-
Lowed in shallows. Say the word and I shall
Be held, will the world and I shall be born,
Say it and I shall be beheld and hold
You, my Lord, say it with my mouth, I’m yours.
*The excerpt from "A Book of Hours" appears here for the first time by permission of the author.
ANNA CONNORS (b. 1991)
Hanging, feet hooked over the monkey-bars,
I used to listen for the Lord.
I waited until my ears hummed with blood
and blue reached my lips and under my eyes.
I was closer to the ground than I expected
when I did fall—relieved.
I tried it time after time
and I still believe, or pretend, those red moments
were somehow holy—
my corn-yellow hair strewn like hayseed,
the latent Messiah come, as wind, to hum
and blow across my gravel-pocked feet.
I learned to chase, to reach for others with my fingertips.
I have followed them through their homes
and I say I too am chained to this world,
trammeled like an animal to this town.
The mobbing clouds look like sheep
in this slant of day and wildly run.
Don’t ask me to reach within myself and search
for something sounding like an answer.
I don’t want to distinguish what I touch.
Let me ask someone else, “What is this?”
(What piece of obsidian has been pulled
from my body’s fallow land?)
I am the self-mutilating parakeet
a child kept and loved.
When I hear my owner’s voice,
I can suddenly feel my wings.
I slap them against the bars.
I dismantle my persimmon-brown feathers.
My body claps against metal,
A tongue in an accidental bell.
Push me, Lord, I swing.
I still sing. But maybe one night I will forget
the slow, low, humming sound
I once heard as a child hanging.
Or maybe everything
will begin to sound like it.
*"Hanging" appears here for the first time by permission of the author.