Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 76 (October 1997).

I Know Not the Secret

I call, but my finest thoughts come not out of their sanctum.
Yet when I am silent, they quietly open the door
And come to stand by my side. And I welcome them and rejoice
That they have come, for I know not the secret of their hiding places.

Charles Gordon Rex

Weather Forecast: Prolonged Dry Period

The cattle who should, according
to folklore, be lying down at the approach of rain,
stand skeptical in a field of ragged green. The sky,
a surging pewter, exhibits a tatter of gulls.

Like cows, I live under a conditional heaven;
clouds keep tearing apart, then mending,
heavy with partial images. Moments ago
a sheaf of rain, weighted with promise, breached

the foothills. Now its silver ghost
breasts the cow pasture, looms closer, then passes
barely a hundred yards to my left. It
never even blesses my forehead with its fierce

mist. In tune with the random weather,
its errors of judgment, I wait. But what?
A wind from the south? A green
perfection? A seven-year drought?

The forecaster preaches his dogma, predicting
high pressure as irritating as intractable optimism;
he may prove wrong. I long to be soaked through.
I want it to pour, relentless, for weeks.

Luci Shaw

If God Is My Elm's Great Roots

If God is my elm’s great roots
burrowing deep for water
but, as branches seek sun,
might also want light,
and so slowly begin rooting upward
shouldering loose the path stones
through the garden
laid long ago and meant to stay,
now making my path impossible;

I accept God’s judgment
and leave the stones raised
like unsettled grave markers
to remind me that God
may move slowly to undo
all my familiar stepping stones
telling me to start new paths
with nothing more to mark my way
than the trail
of my own faint dewprints
on the grass.

Warren L. Molton

Sursum Corda

For years and years, during the dark days
of war and famine, the faithful among us
prayed and watched and waited for a miracle,
for healing, for salvation, for deliverance from evil.
In the hot weather and in the cold weather
our numbers grew fewer and fewer.
The memory of good things faded: fresh flowers
in crystal vases, the look and feel of silk and linen,
the music made by piano and cello and violin
in hushed rooms hung with chandeliers
where during intermission we were awed
by Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Fra Angelico.
Even the memory of the lover to whom we promised
I’ll never forget you, last seen with her lips pressed
to the window of the last departing train, faded
to oblivion. The recording angels were appalled.
The eyes of the dead regarded their lost lives
wandering in the snow as though their deaths
had never happened. Choirs no longer sang
Sursum corda, Dona nobis pacem.
Even the ancient saying Ara longa, vita brevis
proved only half-true. And in our own native tongue
the lambent whisper I love you
rarely, if ever, escaped our lips. . . .

But now, years later, in Phase Five of the Reconstruction,
we are well again and living in New Times.
The previously inconvenient hills are leveled,
cleared of gorse and heather
to make way for Gore-Tex and healthier
living. We are governed by dicta that avoid the old pitfalls—
foremost, by the oh so eminently sound injunction
always to look forward, never to look back.

John Drexel

Critics Under Statues

Beneath statues
of Civil War heros
On bronze horses,

Green with age
And victory, sits
The ragged infantry

Of every park,
Pairs of drunks
Passing bottles

Back and forth
Like magicians
Handling fire,

Swallowing wine
Cold and raw,
Swapping tales

Of war, agreed
That bums should
Be in bronze

And generals made
To sit on benches.
The democracy

Of summer has
Its say. Come
December, hands

Stretched out
To trash-can fires
Long for peace.

Lawrence Dugan