Emily's Agnostic Moment

I have come to think
there is no justice--
at least not the sort we imagine.

There are seven billion roads to heaven
and only seven paths to hell.
But we crave judgment
like we grasp for the jagged edges
of retreating nightmares.


I think what we really fear
is the brutal efficiency of a perfect creation:
glimpsing our own recyclable destinies,
watching our most secret wishes
catch flame in other hearts
only to burn, burn out,
and reignite elsewhere.

I don’t know if a Christian is allowed to believe
that there is no life after life,
but I do.

Perhaps I am reconciled in disavowing death.


I have seen a place where the outgoing tide
leaves behind a perfectly round reflecting pool in the sand.

In a certain Blakeian state of mind,
I can imagine that circle contains the whole of creation,
that it sings with the truth of every element
and reflects the myriad beauty of sky and sea.

But no matter what I divine from it,
the ocean is still the glorious, unfathomable ocean,
and I am here,
contemplating a puddle.

For Harry Raymond Eastlack

Harry Raymond Eastlack suffered from fibrodysplasia
ossificans progressiva, a rare genetic disorder in which
bone forms in muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other
connective tissues. After a childhood fracture, extraskeletal
bone began to appear in his body and continued forming
throughout his life. He died of bronchial pneumonia before
his 40th birthday, and his skeletal remains are on display
at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

In the end, I suppose it’s not so surprising
that this once-anarchy of atoms
should sometimes lapse into confusion,
lose sight of the conventional configurations –

or just try something completely different.

A body can only go on so long
making simple anatomical sense
before it propels itself headlong
into that eternal whirling of unexplored forms.

We are contained chaos.
What’s miraculous is that our borders
continually re-find themselves,
that we don’t simply dissolve
into absurdity once and for all.

Except that we do.


From here,
you look like an emaciated warrior,
the dark, delicate caverns of your body
clad in self-generated defenses.

You stand guard over
a surreal circus of deformities:
horned heads and seven-fingered hands
suspended in formaldehyde,
stuffed dwarves and amputations.

You are of it and above it,
dangling from your own steel architecture,
tempting dust and destruction
to get the better of you.


You are all bone.
I say it to myself again and again.
Bone replacing lips,
replacing lungs,
replacing heart.

Your strength, your life was fleshy vulnerability.
The genesis of armor was your death.
The miracle is that we don’t all die that way.

Except that we do.

Untitled

This morning I woke
to a silver stream of light
reaching out
from an unbroken sky.

It was voiceless,
but singing.

It was newborn, fragile,
but precocious.

It made an undulating arc
across the emptiness
and came to rest at my feet.

In unmeasured moments,
luminosity
became liquid
became artifact

and dissipated
into shimmering motes
with a breath.

The day began.

Parable of the Sower

Desperation too has a place in the pantheon of virtue.

Take the absurd, impossible abundance of seed--
life so desperate to renew itself
that it would give itself away a thousand times over
for one chance to flourish.

We are shards of a long since shattered creation,
hesitant germs of seeds sometime spread lavishly
on broken sidewalks.
The soul collides with the body,
releasing a seismic whimper
that only nerves frayed by relentless disappointment
can sense,

and the earth refuses to be subdued.

The drama of suffering plays itself out in the stars,
a static canvas that masks
explosions
coups
the quiet deaths of ancient powers.

Apocalypse is a convenient anxiety,
a final resolution
to what can never be taken back:
the Sower's extravagance,
the effervescence of spirit.

The very core of the earth so longs
to drink in that sweet, hope-filled air
that it cries out in
eruptions
tremors
for release.

With the smell of snow still on the air
the desperate green forsythia shoots
stretch so anxiously toward heaven
that they explode almost instantly
in brilliant, fragile yellow
long before the march of spring begins.

Havana: Afternoon Dream

This much is certain: here,
waves on rock give birth to sugar –
a decided consummation of confusion
turned, instantly,
elemental.

Nothing out of the ordinary,
just horizon crashing restlessly into Malecon,
resolving to airborne crystal,
settling to the earth
as pure palatability.

You are all salt
stretched wide in liquid simplicity,
thirsty by nature,
but at home in your own company.
Every part unattended
still tastes of sea,
not yet turned sweet with encounter.

There is Malecon beneath,
rubbed smooth by seven days of the same pacing,
craning still at the precipice.

There is Malecon beside,
a path of wandering rock following the sea –
portless, estranged from history,
and made, in time,
an unremarkable pilgrimage for tenderhearted tourists
looking listlessly toward home.

Pamlico Sound

Surely I am not the first to tell you
that the present is not unassailable.
The invasion of studied patterns is inevitable.

The cleansing breaths,
the guerilla meditation,
welcome sensory immediacy

but the vacuum
also greets the spectres of history.

And surely I am not the first
to suggest
that we meet the onslaught
with gratitude.

The past has hooks and muscle.
But without it, the unfolding present
would find it impossible
to walk,
to speak,
to paddle this vessel
into the west wind.

And we must, regardless,
call each creature on God's earth
by its name--

the exuberant herring
the plaintive blue heron
the patient, secretive oyster living
past
present
future
at the rising
retreating
water line.

Embodiment

Each of my children
is a revelation. 

My story is their story.

To tell you where I’ve been
would be

a failure of will. 

It is tempting
to pluck down thunderheads

and sparrow songs

to fashion a convenient narrative.
But they—

they would know the fallacy
and the deception. 



Where I am going—

where they are going—

will plumb the mysteries

of a well-worn path.
The discoveries are a commonwealth.

The cadence of the present

is equally trite. 

But it can be taken up,
like a raiment,

like a shroud, 

and give shape
to the invisible.

Each of my children
is a revelation.
Their story is my story.

Nantasket: On Dogma

Whose voice is it
that whispers and chatters

over tumbled jewel-stones
as the waves pull away? 

Who murmurs from under the seawall?

It may not matter to everyone,
but it matters to me.

Surely God did not have time
in those six working days

to paint every mussel shell

that impossible iridescent

blue outside

silver inside.

Surely Chance has 

far too heavy a hand
to sculpt the subtle sand ripples

and carve the serpentine channels
that cling to the ocean as it retreats
and shimmer pink at low tide.

If you have ever heard the echoed
“Thou” 

in mountains or in meadows,
you will feel the same.

You cannot be here without knowing.

Repair

Today oddly

it was my right ankle
that gave me pause.

Twice compromised,
twice healed,

each time more quickly than expected,

enough to baffle its caretakers.
Knit together with its own intent,
its own materials.

Why so efficient? 

Why not rest a while,

whimper for more attention?

Why not linger with the weakness,

just a bit of it, just in case?



Excuses are hard to come by,
and you never know when 

you might need one.

But emerging from pain

it finds itself still 

between a foot
that meets the earth with purpose
and a leg that bears the weight
of a plodding, demanding body. 

It is a passenger and a cog.

I suppose you could say
it really had no choice—
A single jewel in Indra’s net, 

no meaning without function.

And still it did choose—

with each microscopic thread
of new bone,
it chose to be 

rather than to sleep.

Trikonasana

The soul has a limber body;
its full expression is extension.

Beckoning it into constrained space,
we invite angst.

It wants only to philander,
find warmth in any bed,
no matter how unworthy.

Not that it’s easy to be embodied
against one’s will.
The earth shouts to it
her message in myriad voices.
The devil tempts relentlessly,
with a flickering film reel
of sentiments.

But God asks his questions
only once,
softly.

We follow the fading echoes
home.

Santa Cruz

Here is the evidence
that desire and oblivion
are sisters
separated at birth,
longing incoherently
for reunion.

Here
again
where confused breaking water
collapses in exhaustion
at the end of a forced journey
and is lured back again
for another attempt,
foamy fingers clinging to shifting sand.

Because we know
there is only death in craving,
but know nothing of ourselves
without it.