Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 74 (June/July 1997):

I Am No Lazy Lover

I am no lazy lover
with sweeping grandeurs
of small talk. Words, you discover
are passing; love endures.

Proffered is no measured length
of the potential soul.
Rather, influence of strength,
corner-stone, cemented whole.

The senses know the form
and smile and eyes
of love, but the loverís norm
is to pierce through this disguise

to spirit which in all things
does love intensify
to ripened being. Each day that sings
our love is more July.

Sand below and stars above
give instancy of me.
Mine is no lazy love;
come taste my love and see.

Richard Novak, C.S.C.


The Prodigals

I hope to kill the fatted calf somehow,
Before its youth is gone, and in its stead
There stands a lean and empty-uddered cow
From whom all festiveness has fled;
Before its innocence, naiveté,
Has, from neglect, been changed to dull, morose,
Unfeeling gloom that holds all joy at bay,
And with its bones it pierces skin drawn close.

I hope to pile the groaning board up high,
And importune the prodigals to eat,
Ignore the Elder Brother standing by,
And give themselves completely to the meat.
But what if prodigals exist no more,
And all are Elder Brothers at the door?

Charles Gordon Rex


Black Scrawl

The crimson lake that laps her cheek,
her scarlet kiss, her madder hair
once singed the virgin martyr page
but taper down at last to this:
Red language, words incarnadine;
black scrawl in sifted ash.

When I have fears that I may cease
to speak before my sullen sun
and garner dark at length in day,
then on the shore I stand at night
and hear the empty rollers break,
black wash against the stones.

Words weigh more than words can bear.
No props, no guys, no stays can save
this solid world from solid fall.
Too dense dead stuff; these words, this love:
the rouge on corpses, whited graves,
black shards of broken glass.

J. Bottum


Fiat Rex

There being neither bangled dancers
swirling cloth-of-gold and green
nor golden peacocks set in trees
above the marble garden ponds,
we are assured we are no king.

O, but were I king I would command
my flautists out upon the porch
and golden bowls of tamarinds
and pomegranate seeds in ice
set down within my reach.

Or I would welcome envoys from the east
with feasting and a holiday,
rise to declare our love for peace
and whisper orders to proceed.
Itís well I do not rule this place

for I would teach the crowded lands
that peace is war in shepherdís dress.
And I would lead great armies south,
and at the Ganges cry aloud
for other worlds that I might win.

How many died that day in Itaban?
I canít remember but my sword
was black with blood and we won through.
I saw a jackal gnaw a hand
and ordered all the bodies burned.

Now I grow cold and get no heat
from charcoal fires in the spring.
What did it gain? My son is dead,
and men put paper in between
my word and deed, and speak of laws,

and Iím an old and heirless king.
I see them smile and look away.
Iíll teach them that the old hand stilló
Iíll summon guardsóAntílochesó
no, heís dead these ten years gone;

I do not know if guards will come.
Let Strake and Tolma make their plans
to take this kingdom when Iím done.
It is enough their fathers stood
beside me while we battled worlds.

I wonder if their ghosts still laugh
at how we broke the Hittites like a dam
and poured our armies on the east.
From the porch, the ivory flutes
ring echoes in the colonnades;

a golden birdís gold feathers trail
down to touch the marble pond.
Itís good to sit here and recall,
an old king resting in the sun,
though all the swirling dancers know
we are no king at all.

J. Bottum