Posts tagged ‘Cairns’

January 3, 2013

the slow learner continued dancing

Poem by Scott Cairns (published in his collections Theology of Doubt and Compass of Affection):

The Theology of Doubt

I have come to believe this fickleness
of belief is unavoidable. As, for these
back lot trees, the annual loss
of leaves and fruit is unavoidable.
I remember hearing that soft-soap
about faith being given
only to the faithful—mean trick,
if you believe it. This afternoon,
during my walk, which
I have come to believe is good
for me, I noticed one of those
ridiculous leaves hanging
midway up an otherwise naked oak.
The wind did what it could
to bring it down, but the slow
learner continued dancing. Then again,
once, hoping for the last good apple,
I reached among bare branches,
pulling into my hand
an apple too soft for anything
and warm to the touch, fly blown.

December 12, 2012

deep within the clay

A nativity poem by Scott Cairns (about the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit):

Deep within the clay, and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the ember of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew falls gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. Her human flesh
adorns its Lord, and lo, the wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a King whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

Composed for an event with Gordon College students in Orvieto, Italy. See this page.

June 20, 2012

turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep

From Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns (155).

Hidden City

…that you might approach the Jerusalem of the heart…
                                                     —Isaac the Least

And now I think Jerusalem abides untouched,
the temple yet intact, its every cornerstone
in place, its vault replete with vivid scent, its ark

alight with vigil lamps whose oil is never spent.
In psalm the pilgrim asks forgiveness, pleads that God
return the Spirit to the heart, and look, the Ghost

had never left, had never for an instant drawn
away, had only watched His presence made obscure
by soul’s own intermittent darkening. Just so,

the three companions of the Lord had blindly walked
the lesser part of three dim years before their eyes
beheld the Light that bathed the Son eternally.

Just so, the Light of Tabor spools extending past
the vision of the multitude, if nonetheless
apparent to the meek, the poor, the pure in heart.

Just so, the Holy City bides within the heart,
awaits the day the pilgrim will arrive, will quit
the road, turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep, and see.

April 14, 2012

the divine in him contracted to an ache

By Scott Cairns in his “Recovered Body” collection and recently shared here on the Huffington Post.

The More Earnest Prayer of Christ

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly
–Luke 22:44

His last prayer in the garden began, as most
as his prayers began–in earnest, certainly,
but not without distraction, an habitual…what?

Distance? Well, yes, a sort of distance, or a mute
remove from the genuine distress he witnessed
in the endlessly grasping hands of multitudes

and, often enough, in his own embarrassing
circle of intimates. Even now, he could see
these where they slept, sprawled upon their robes or wrapped

among the arching olive trees. Still, something new,
unlikely, uncanny was commencing as he spoke.
As the divine in him contracted to an ache,

a throbbing in the throat, his vision blurred, his voice
grew thick and unfamiliar; his prayer — just before
it fell to silence — became uniquely earnest.

And in that moment — perhaps because it was so
new — he saw something, had his first taste of what
he would become, first pure taste of the body, and the blood.

April 4, 2012

the way things were shaping up

YHWH’s Image

And YHWH sat in the dust, bone weary after
days of strenuous making, during which He,
now and again, would pause to consider the
way things were shaping up. Time also would
pause upon these strange durations; it would
lean back on its haunches, close its marble
eyes, appear to doze.

But when YHWH Himself finally sat on the
dewy lawn—the first stage of his work all but
finished—He took in a great breath laced with
all lush odors of creation. It made him almost
giddy.

As He exhaled, a sigh and sweet mist spread
out from him, settling over the earth. In that
obscurity, YHWH sat for an appalling interval,
so extreme that even Time opened its eyes, and
once, despite itself, let its tail twitch. Then
YHWH lay back, running His hand over the
damp grasses, and in deep contemplation
reached into the soil, lifting great handsful of
trembling clay to His lips, which parted to
avail another breath.

With this clay He began to coat His shins,
cover His thighs, His chest. He continued this
layering, and, when He had been wholly
interred, He parted the clay at His side, and
retreated from it, leaving the image of Himself
to wander in what remained of that early
morning mist.

By Scott Cairns from Recovered Body.

March 29, 2012

all but invisible through that lavish debris

The Glass Man

He is the transparence of the place in which He is…

This is where he washed to shore
during rough weather in November.
We found him in a nest of kelp,

salt bladders, other sea wrack—
all but invisible through
that lavish debris—and we might

have passed him by altogether
had he not held so perfectly
still, composed, so incoherently

fixed among the general
blowziness of the pile.
Unlikely is what he was,

what he remains—brilliant,
immutable, and of speech
quite incapable, if revealing

nonetheless. Under foot,
the landscape grows acute, so that it seems
to tremble, thereafter to dissolve,

thereafter to deliver to the witness
a suspicion of the roiling
confusion which brought him here.

By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (pages 55).

March 26, 2012

we saw the City

City Under Construction

As you might suppose, the work was endless. Even when at last the
City stood gleaming like flame in the troubled radiance of that
distended sun, we could not help but be drawn to where our next
project should begin: The loosening bolt, flaking surfaces, another
unnerving vibration in the yawning superstructure.

We made a joke of it: The Eternal City! And let our lives run out
reworking the old failures, refining our materials, updating tech-
niques, but always playing catch-up to a construction that just
wouldn’t hold, fretwork that wouldn’t stay put, girders complaining
under the accumulating matter of successive generations and an
unrelenting wind.

Granted, it could have been worse; at least the work served as an
emblem of perpetual promise as every flagging strut commenced
another stretch of unquestioned purpose—mornings when we rose
from our beds eager and awake, thoroughly enjoyed our food, and
hurried out to work.

Nor would it serve to slight the rich pathos we shared like a warming
drink with co-workers. For there we’d be—touching up the paint or
turning the heavy wrench for the hundredth time—and we’d smile,
shake our head theatrically, say to each other how our City was
insatiable.

Just the same, this was not precisely what we had intended—that
our City should grow into a self-perpetuating chore. Earlier, we had
imagined—more or less naively—a different sort of progress, one
with a splendid outcome. We fancied a final . . . conclusion, from
which we would not be inclined to retreat.

I recall how, long before we had so much as made a start,
before we had cleared the first acre or drawn the first plan,
we saw the City, and as near completion then as it would
ever be, infinite in the best sense, its airy stone reaching to
the very horizon, and—I think this is the issue—extending
invisibly past.

By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (pages 60-61).

March 24, 2012

the thing to remember

Imperative

The thing to remember is how
tentative all of this really is.
You could wake up dead.

Or the woman you love
could decide you’re ugly.
Maybe she’ll finally give up
trying to ignore the way
you floss your teeth as you
watch television. All I’m saying
is that there are no sure things here.

I mean, you’ll probably wake up alive,
and she’ll probably keep putting off
any actual decision about your looks.
Could be she’ll be glad your teeth
are so clean. The morning might be
full of all the love and kindness
you need. Just don’t go thinking
you deserve any of it.

By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (page 3).

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July 21, 2011

hikers overdue at home

Finding the Broken Man

by Scott Cairns

When I found the fallen climber caught
halfway down the slope of stunted pines,
he was already dead two days, and his body
stank; he was loose and careless as a boy.
I gave my jacket up for lost, and wrapped him
as I could, then shouted loud, hoping others,
in my group were near enough that together
we could lift him out. It’s a common thing
near White Pass and, I suppose, any mountain town
to be called out in search of hikers
overdue at home. Having found one dead
is a sort of badge we wear, and one
I’d probably wear, if the others searching
had heard me call, of if I’d been
man enough to wait.

This is another cherished favorite passed along to me by someone else. Cairns speaks poignantly about failed kingship. He tells a hard story well, and suggests immediately from the title that his poem is also about another broken body abandoned on another tree.

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