Poetry

(August/September 1997)


Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 75 (August/September 1997):.

Cosmos

Before I die Iíd like
to understand this world.
(I grow ambitious as I read my words.)

While mind remains I want
to trace the moral circuit
that lights the star-laced universe,

that golden thread
with a core of steel
drawn taut through time
to the far frontier of mortal reach,

seeking the infinite
of our finite thought,
the polar star that some
call God.

André Ryerson

 

Timor Mortis

Death is the night watch
The waiter, the wanter
Death is the break
The wake of the sleeping
death is the waker,
the watcher of sleep.
death is the breaker,
the waking of sleep.
Down in the hole
Down in the hole
The frost on his fingers
The blood of the sparrows
the creaker is turning.
he starts up awake.
cracks in his yearning.
streaks on his face.
The flinch of the doe
The twitch of the owl
Death is the sudden
The shudder, the stutter
as she drinks at the river,
the flutter of mice:
shrill in the shiver,
the stand-still of night.
Down in the hole
The belly, the bone-home
Down in the hole
The clutch of the bellman
the hunger is calling,
the empty of earth.
the sleeper is falling:
the caller to church.
Death is the night watch
The waiter, the wanter
Death is the break
The wake of the sleeping
death is the waker,
the watcher of sleep.
death is the breaker,
the waking of sleep.

J. Bottum

Dirge

I should have deadened the street with straw,
I should have stopped the bedroom clock
and stilled the doorbell chimes with crepe,
I should have brought him quinine bark,
exotic simples packed in teak,
I should have had Te Deums sung
with banks of candles, cloistered nuns
to say their beads before he died.
Before he died, he should have known
his son would hire muffled drums
,his son would shroud his house in black,
he should have known his son would find
the cassocked priests to chant his Mass,
he should have known the sable horse
and raven hearse would trundle past
the silent parks and shuttered shops.
I should have told him weeping men
would dim the street like mourning clouds,
I should have knelt beside his bed
and said in life we are in death,
I should have told him sons survive
to keep their fatherís death alive.

J. Bottum