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And so we wait
for the barbarians,
our hearts palpitating
like bleating sheep,
our mouths dry as stone,
our thirst unslaked
by the morning dew.

Beyond the ramparts,
the sun rises blood red
above the hill
where we hunted
for secrets of
the hordes to come.

We scattered high
and low, far past
the statue of Poseidon
that towers
at the edge of
the wine-dark sea,
which unfurls like
a murderous storm
that would drown our crops,
batter out battlements,
power the siege to come.

And so we wait
at the gates
for the barbarians
and the tsunami
that drives them.
There is nothing left
when the snows swirl,
the wizened apple falls,
the hills turn tawny
and dry, our love lost
in the undulant
folds of the earth.
We turn together
in search of the
blessing of the cirrus-
shredded sky. Hawks
soar, return to land,
then swoop away again,
carrying our hearts
in their hypodermic
talons, now heavy
with wounded prey.
Shall we step backward
or forward? Shall we
glide silently away,
or run moaning
to the hills? All directions
collapse into one.
All directions point
elsewhere, never here,
never there, never
where we stand,
never where we stare,
yearning for the steely
hawk's return, yearning
for more than this
chilly impasse, for more
than the frisson of
this no way out.
(After Louis Glück, winner of
the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature

I rise into the faithful, virtuous
night, misty and mysterious,
illumined by the spying moon.
White shadows point the way.

I am the light beneath the
expansive canopy of stars,
tiny and malleable, trekking
through my limn-like work.

A peak, a pinnacle, a red
plateau. These haunt me,
captivate me. I am the lost
pilgrim, perched on the edge

of expectation, serenaded
by the dark music of loss.
I am open, shapeless, ever
wondering at the capacious

sky. What shall I gain or lose,
bound for permanent separation,
all so my soul may not be
distracted as I limn the light?
Cavernous shadows and clouds encase
the uneven edges of my dream, a dark,
disparate dungeon of beclouded jewels.

No splendor gleams through the pinpoint
gaps. No radiance revels in the penetrating
rays that steadily stalk my internal darkness.

In the deepest center of my dream, I swoon,
wounded by love, which is the light, which
is the Living Flame of Love that sears away

all signs of soot and smudge and stain, all
distorting ripples in the window of the soul,
all disruptive detritus of the dream, its dreaded

diffidence at the prospect of illumination,
of receiving all that it is capable of receiving,
of riding the photons and waves of light

into vast fields of grandeur and affirmation,
of transformation, spilling over with power,
being and virtue, lost in labyrinthine rays

that curve and whirl and roll and plummet and bend
round the center that centers itself outside the circle
of my dream, now flooded with light, an elliptical path

that turns back on itself, leaking through crevices,
slicing up clouds, brimming with the brightest
white, a radiant white aglow with beams of white,

engulfing the bejeweled white that penetrates the center
of the soul, lanced by legions of white, lanced by flaming love,
now penetrated and pinned to the light, until I become the light.
St. John of the Cross throws
twenty spiritual poems into
the Living Flame of Love,
watching them burn into
black, shredded shards
of nada and todo. Nothing
for the finite, human spirit,
everything for the divine-
driven soul, longing for
sweet, eternal union with
The Source of All That Is.
How John can savor
the delicate aroma of
the incense of praise
that emanates from the fire,
love translated as living
grace infused into the soul,
dead to itself, but alive
in the grasp of God. How does
the poet usurp the saint?
How does the penitent
claim his forgiveness,
his peace, his inward
teachings of the labyrinthine
love in which his soul
wanders, waiting on a sacred guide
to lead him into the arbor
of righteousness, of purity,
of ecstatic communion
with the Living Flame,
which sears away all
traces of the arrogant,
self-driven soul, the ratio-
empirical self that lusts
for certainty from finite
possibilities, that sees no God
in the niches of nature?
How the wretched ones retreat
from glory, how the minions
of myopic seekers miss the mark:
hamartia of the heart.

John bears the cross as his
reward and burden, as the perfect
ending to his story of yearning
for union, of longing for love that
diminishes nada, that teases out
todo: The totality of Being that
succors the senses, mends the mind,
washes clean every obstacle
that stands in its way, elevates
every submission of will
above the calamity and
cacophony of the polluted world,
of tireless treks into temples
of doom to assert the supremacy
of the making mind, the force
of ratiocination that reigns over
every investigation and claim
into the nature of the self,
over every hypothesis,
experiment, spread sheet of data
and library of laws. Whose law
does the thirsting soul obey?
Is it not its own until the soul
is purified in the Living Flame
of Love, the eternal fire
that lights up the world in its
hubris and high comedy,
in its tragic truculence,
resisting grace that beckons
like shimmering sheets
of waterfalls as they splash
into deep, green pools, as they
plummet into like becomes
like, into the dancing dawn
of union, of embrace,
of the self singed of all sin,
raised up into the boundless
beauty of beatific visions,
of the wholeness of the will
and mind and soul and spirit,
of the renewed mortal body and
the traces of creation that cling
still to their impermanent places,
yearning also for perfect union,
for an end to their nothingness,
to their persistent contingency,
crying out for the beginning of
everlasting love, for the denouement
of existence's tragedy of errors:
the anti-Shakespearean play
of opposites, of ghosts and
beings of doubt, death and
decline trapped in the infinite
depths of self-obsession,
gazing into Narcissus’ mirror,
the focus receding to the blurred
horizon of perception,
to the inscrutable, shattered
realm of Imago Dei.

John invokes the power for
his soul to rise above every
mountain, to mount every
cairn that points forward
toward divinity, eternity,
ecstasy, authenticity
of the self made todo out of nada,
made to rest in the green
pools of destiny, droplets
splashing his face, falls
slaking his thirst, as he no longer
swims against the tides
that roil in his spirit like
pieces of a poem engulfed
in The Living Flame of Love,
scorched clean of error,
turned toward the wind
that scatters ashes abroad,
that blows where it will,
toward the telos that never
disappoints, that never dies:
Where every metaphor turns into
an axiom of beauty: the endless
struggle of like becomes like.

-- For the Rev. Tom Schaefer
Giant cottonwoods rake
the sky, slake their thirst
below dried-out creek beds.
The sunbaked soil fractures
into pieces of a shattered ***.

Octopus roots root out secret
channels underground, unclogged
by fish, debris or mythological
creatures rising from the rocks.
Trunks molt flattened flagstones

of bark, ragged chunks more gray
than brown, more a coat of armor
for battered torsos, more a pillar of steel
for massive, chipped legs. O Time! Age too
long, and bushy tops topple into the creek.

Leaves rustle like muted cymbals.
Still, there is much to celebrate in such
fearless longevity: Do not Heracles-sized
branches veer off in heroic Y’s that
claw their way higher and higher until

they burst through the clouds, free from
the world, frowning down upon it in
verdant condescension? I cannot answer.
Trees soar in silence. I scoot along the creek
bed, scrambling for arrowheads, for some sign

of human presence that shows I, too, belong among
the giants, shooting my roots underground,
rising up as an arbor above the dried-out
shadows, grasping for the sweet sap of longevity.
I shall bite off a bit of bark and bid the world adieu.
Apples fall from the tree
behind the Swiss chalet.
They fall through me as
shadows climb and crest
Wetterhorn Mountain,
crowned by rocky horns
borne from Michelangelo's
"Moses." Horns of brilliance
and power, horns of shining
light that passes through me
into the shadows of the sun-stained
mountain, whose horns turn,
twist and fall through me
into the scattered piles
of apples plopping
onto the neon green grass.
Apples tumble through me
as I pass into the silence
within the silence that beckons
from the mountaintops. I am
the fruit of darkness and light,
fruit of the horn of the divine,
a son of Moses seeking exodus
beneath this rocky band of ragged peaks.
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