Copyright (c) 1993 First Things 31 (March 1993):
Truth is out of favor
To a fault
Yet, I hold fast
To Christ-the Contrast
Who only yields
Brother John Boyd, OSB
"...saw little of note except
...fortunately the Duomo was on
that walk...": from a letter
The Duomo cathedral hung its own weather
above you. A light fog, full-massed as gray silk,
hovered as a helicopter might for some yet-to-ascend saint.
You heard noise where hidden workmen chipped away
at the eves of the roof or at the thumbnails of gargoyles
that guarded leaky ceiling points; you imagined a man
living a decade hip-deep in rose-white marble
he carved into adornments and placed atop columns
or attached to the flying buttresses.
You, at six feet tall, knew you were as large as a small leaf
at the point of a window's curve,
or as small as a crack you could not have seen above you
on the clearest day. It had been years
since you had been a Catholic and you thought it showed,
but you could have stood there forever.
Nights at home you sit up for hours after your family is asleep,
the black dog comes,
and you write another story;
characters speak aloud. The dog howls.
You hear it as you heard the workmen of the Duomo.
Do they go a little crazy some nights, too?
You know you want to live long enough to do the right thing,
and yet something old that you never expected
to be everywhere you went says, "I dare you. Starve for art;
throw the pee-colored snake oil vials away,
the ones you schlepp country to country. Go on-
disappear into an Italian film, be the one to run away to Sicily
and hang out, eating fruit with that brown-eyed girl
you saw in Milan, her body as lively as any of the best sets of lines
Matisse ever slapped perfectly alive on canvas."
Seven meters an hour, top speed,
pulling closer the edge
of asphalt you cannot
see. Mizzling rain glistens
your body stripped
to the skin. You row,
row for your life
in air thick with whirlpools
of danger. I cannot look
at you without suffering
There reels from the morning
sky a piece of burnt orange
paper. Death grazes among
islands of turquoise.
You defy ordinary
good sense. You defy
death. You ask so little.
to the permeable horizon
calling like harbor lights.