(February 1992)

Copyright (c) 1992 First Things 20 (February 1992):.

On the Commitment of a Friend to a Mental Institution

You heard the voices wafting
Beyond the mechanical street.
Attending seraphs sighing
You caught their half-notes
In the narrows of the halls at night.
Unscrewing lightbulbs from the sockets,
Blinding the world to heed the light,
You announced in the kitchen
With old prophetic ardor
Against our din of talk and pans
That Jesus was come, or at least nigh.
We searched your drawer for medication,
Counted out uneaten anodynes
And knew you'd fallen from our heights.
We dialed the doctor,
The mental institution down the street
And the cops, in case.
When the knock came upon the door,
You stepped into the open night
Clutching my hand for your progress.
In a blanched, fluorescent lobby
The white-robed clerks look on and code
Forms behind the silent glass.
Huddling on my lap, shivering with fear,
Where only a rubber plant droops to hear,
You try to tell us all again
The singing of the voices.
Then move into the silence of eclipse.

Mary Freeman


In the Cleveland Museum of Art
In the din of ages
so quiet only the squeak
of charcoal sneakers
and the stentorian tutelage
of living masses
with a breast exposed,
Mary drawing blood
from fingers brushing thorns-
overhead the tapestry
of knights and days-
in glass enclosed, breastplates,
armor . . .
The old and the young
contemplate themselves
distractedly-why this
and this-not something
else?-why this standing
for man; preserved-
why does this speak
to who I am?
Only the rich of course
had these things, no?
The poor had nothing like this
in their homes, the earnest
middle-ager asks. (The art
of the poor was staying alive;
their lives enriched
by viewing their betters'
legacies, now, the wiseacre
guide replies, wisely.)
Crossbows; helmets;
chainmail. "Laban searching
for his household idols" . . .
Filipino and Chinese,
black schoolchildren
and matrons,
each one finger
of a hand reaching back
to the center of the earth
floating through the heavens.

Jackson Holmes

To the Professor-A Final Query

As you lie there
(bedridden, they say),
Dull eyes fixing on objects
deemed less than worthy of ordinary attention-
uneven surfaces,
hairline cracks in a painted wall,
sunlight moving hour by hour
across momentos of distant adventures-
Do you still travel the roads and seaways with
the belated apostle from Tarsus as he journeys across
the Empire?
Can you yet stand in the shadows with the young Athanasius,
hearing the Nicene elders pronounce on
the consubstantial Word?
Are thoughts of day-long colloquies at Cassiciacum
still blowing through your fevered mind like
an evening breeze?
Will your little room with the clean sheets and
the antiseptic smells expand to hold
a Dumb Ox pondering syllogisms spacious enough
to contain a universe,
an Augustinian monk daring to stand (contra
-Do you remember Athanasius?) before
the doctors gathered at Leipzig and Worms,
a gaunt young lawyer poring over sacred texts in
his Genevan study?
Do angels and archangels,
prophets, apostles, and martyrs,
all assembled as a great cloud of witnesses,
Greet you as you make your way beyond encroaching darkness
toward the Unapproachable Light?

Charles C. Twombly

The Body Has a Clarity

The body has a clarity
Between high and low hierarchies
tenebras et luces.
He would be undone
Who for too long scorns
Either throng to court the other.
Vengeance is mine clamors
Each. Angel bright of
Intellection, her glittering
Sword sends straight to
Heaven. Angel dark of
Palpitation, her furious
Pockets bulge with victims.
No body, any body.
Does a body lie between
For habitation? A clarity
Of green stretches between
Heavenly chant and infernal refrain.
There, the body rests
From the heat of the day
In the shade of a cultivated tree.

Mary Freeman