Read an Excerpt
1 THE WORD "ANSWER"
"Prayer exerts an influence upon God's action, even
upon his existence. This is what the word `answer' means."
Karl Barth, Prayer
Lightning walks across the shallow seas,
Stick figures putting feet down hard
Among the molecules. Meteors dissolve
And drop their pieces in a mist of iron,
Drunk through atomic skin like dreamy wine.
The virus that would turn a leaf dark red
Seizes two others that would keep it green.
They spread four fingers like a lizard's hand.
Into this random rightness comes the prayer,
A change of weather, a small shift of degree
That heaves a desert where a forest sweated,
And asks creation to return an answer.
That's all it wants: a prayer just wants an answer,
And twists time in a knot until it gets it.
There's the door. Will anybody get it?
That's what he's wondering; the bath's still warm;
And by the time he towels off and puts on
His pajamas, robe, and slippers and goes down,
They'll be gone, won't they? There's the door again;
And nobody's here to answer it but him.
Perhaps they'll go away. But it's not easy,
Relaxing in the tub, reading the paper,
With someone at the front door, ringing and pounding,
Andthat sounds like glassbreaking in.
At least the bathroom door's securely bolted.
Or is that any assurance in this case?
He might as well go find out what's the matter.
Whoeveritis must really want ... something.
We ask for bread, he makes his body bread.
We ask for daily life, and every day,
We get a life, or a facsimile,
Or else we get a tight place in a crowd
Or test results with the prognosisbad.
We ask and what is given is the answer,
For we can always see it as an answer,
Distorted as it may be, from our God.
What shall we ask for then? For his return,
Like the bereaved parents with the monkey's paw,
Wishing, then wishing again? The last answer,
When we have asked for all that we can ask for,
May be the end of time, our mangled child,
And in the doorway, dead, the risen past.
With this prayer I am making up a God
On a gray day, prophesying snow.
I pray that God be immanent as snow
When it has fallen thickly, a deep God.
With this prayer I am making up a God
Who answers prayer, responding like the snow
To footprints and the wind, to a child in snow
Making an angel who will speak for God.
God, I am thinking of you now as snow,
Descending like the answer to a prayer,
This prayer that you will be made visible,
Drifting and deepening, a dazzling, slow
Acknowledgment, out of the freezing air,
As dangerous as it is beautiful.
Which is the one, which of the imps inside
Unglues itself from the yin-yang embrace
Of its good twin or its bad twin and plays
The angel advocate, the devil's guide?
Which blob of conscience, like a germicide,
Catches and kills the impulse when it strays?
Which impulse with light playing on its face,
Its fright mask, leads to the dark outside?
All of them shapeless feelings given form
By words which they in turn give substance to.
As particle and wave make light, they swarm
Together with their names. And we do, too,
Praying that God knows each of us and cares
About the things we speak of in our prayers.
Soften the blow, imagined God, and give
Me one good reason for this punishment.
Where does the pressure come from? Is it meant
To kill me in the end or help me live?
My thoughts about you are derivative.
Still, I believe a part of me is bent
To make your grace look like an accident
And keep my soul from being operative.
But if I'm to be bent back like the pole
A horseshoe clangs against and gives a kink to,
Then take me like the grinning iron monger
I saw once twist a bar that made him sink to
His knees. His tongue was like a hot pink coal
As he laughed and said he thought that he was stronger.
I think of Gosse, watching his father paint
Anemones from tidal pools in Devon
(Long plundered by the time Gosse called them back).
All the boy knew of art were these water colors
With Latin names for captions, an extravagance
Indulged for science, checked by a firm faith.
And there was also the book his father wrote
To reconcile the Bible and Charles Darwin
Greeted with scorn. I think of Gosse writing
About the days alone with his mother's illness
And afterwards with his father's loneliness.
He saw and heard the marine biologist pray
As if he could, by word and gesture only,
Pry open the mute heavens like a bivalve.
The thin end of the wedge thrusts underneath
The side that's formed a seal with the earth,
A fit as fast and intimate as death.
The lever urges change, release, rebirth.
But the mind, settled in its cozy ditch,
Clothed with the tufted moss of its neurosis,
Which, it believes, will always burn and itch,
Resists, of course, loving its painful stasis.
And change, even extended to the moon,
Even if leaned on by an angel mob
To whom the earth weighs no more than a pin,
Won't budge it, if the mind will not give up.
Before you're tipped from one life to another,
You have to want this miracle to occur.
Outside my door I keep an angel chained.
I never feed him, never let him loose,
And no one has accused me of abuse,
Although I wouldn't care if they complained.
I like the way he looks as if he strained
To put his two carved wooden wings to use
And still stood still impassive and abshruse,
Aware of all he could do and disdained.
And that is our relationship. He stands,
For now, where I have put him. His restraint
Is no more and no less than what it seems.
An angel doesn't have to be a saint.
They fall like us, then try to make amends,
As when he comes and pleads with me in dreams.
"God is in the details."
In which of these details does God inhere?
The woman's head in the boy's lap? His punctured lung?
The place where she had bitten through her tongue?
The drunk's truck in three pieces? The drunk's beer,
Tossed from the cooler, made to disappear?
The silk tree whose pink flowers overhung
The roadside and dropped limp strings among
The wreckage? The steering column, like a spear?
Where in the details, the cleverness of man
To add a gracenote God might understand,
Does God inhere, cold sober, thunderstruck?
I think it's here, in this one: the open can
The drunk placed by the dead woman's hand,
Telling her son, who cried for help, "Good luck."