Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Seven for Three

Tomorrow's the anniversary of Thomas Merton's death.

This is a poem I wrote last February, taking liberties with the sestina form: I used the traditional "seven last words of Christ" as end words, repeating six of them in the traditional sestina manner, and having "spirit" drop from the first to the seventh line through the succesive stanzas. The envoi repeats the first stanza's pattern, and ends with "spirit."

"MC" was a young acquaintance who died of an overdose of heroin.

Seven Words for Three

(MC, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil)

His desert: neither water nor spirit.
If we could enter it would we forgive
his poppies’ milk, his secret paradise,
the exile where his father and his mother,
must wander now forever and forsaken?
Blessed -- marked by blood -- are those who thirst.
The key turns in its hole, and all is finished.

Mourning is blessed, too. It’s never finished.
The spring bestirs itself, like a raw spirit.
For what I didn’t see I can’t forgive
myself: I didn’t see he’d die of thirst
outside the gate of my fake paradise.
Bells ring from vernal pools. For sons forsaken,
two syllables of absence. Mother. Mother.


Matter corrupts. The Church shall be my mother.
Adieu seven deadly sins, with you I’ve finished.
The triple crown of Father, Son and Spirit
surpasses everything that I’ve forsaken.
Hours follow, psalm by psalm. O God forgive .
I’m restless in my souring paradise:
dull men, a rigid Abbot. I write, and thirst

for God in solitude and rain. Then thirst
for emptiness, O wordless Eastern mother
where Buddha’s smile exploded paradise.
Compassion, emptiness flooded his spirit,
then Bangkok and a broken fan finished
extinction’s job. There’s no one to forgive.
The world is accident. But not forsaken.


She wanted more than just to be forsaken.
She’d licked baptism, migraines, hunger, thirst,
and factory work, but still could not forgive
herself the lamb chop that her worried mother
had planted in her larder. Graceful spirit,
what hunger left behind, bacilli finished.
She’d craved a different, better paradise:

craved penal suffering, Cross, a paradise
of Church-and-State-decreed, and God-forsaken
affliction. But common martyrdom finished
her off -- war, scruples, faith, unanswered thirst.
She slipped away so quietly her mother
didn’t know she’d left. Elusive spirit,
you almost got it right. I can forgive.


The Word hung nailed and bleeding. Said, Forgive.
Obscene, it augured up a Paradise.
Spat blood, felt pity. Gave away its Mother.
Recited text: blah blah blah blah Forsaken.
A tingling in the throat. Must be the Thirst.
The dim hills lighten, lovely, O, I’m Finished.
Outbreath between the fingers. Whither Spirit ?

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