Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 84 (June/July 1998):.
We beg you,
mend the ways of pretend mendicants,
imposters who pose pious and pitiful
on our staked-out streets.
Uncover the shades of the blind
who really see, the crippled who limp
selectively in rich company.
Competition is keen;
let’s keep the neighborhood clean
of riff-raff and rabble-rousers,
hypocrites hogging the best hovels,
preying on the easiest weak.
We give our dutiful mite,
pull pennies from our palms,
cough-up an ungodly percentage
for each street corner converted
to our enterprising petitions.
Blessed are we the paupers
of prayerful panhandling.
We beseech you, then, oh Saints,
open your holy hearts
and wallets, and let us in.
What the God of Jacob said through Joseph, we sing
In a psalm, accompanied by tambourine and shepherd’s harp.
New moon, full moon, blow the horn of Israel
Again. About the law:
When I sent Joseph down to Egypt
(Strange tongues spoken there)
I took his brothers off his shoulders,
Saved him from the chore pots.
He called, I answered him
With dreams. I answer you with thunder:
Split rocks gush bitter water.
Do not worship strangeness
In yourself or others’ glamour:
I led you out of Egypt, and will
Fill your mouth. Just open
When I speak: but no one listens.
Had they not loved the sound of their own voices,
Chosen lust, and meat, and hate,
I would have made them masters over all they met,
Would have fed them white bread milled from finest wheat,
Spread with honey from the rock.
Not that we prepared for it, or at first
noticed in the papery rustle
of the cottonwoods our shutters allowed,
or through coffee on the terrace,
in the mist of a garden hose trained on
lavender and roses, and glistening.
Still we are ready—equally in need—
of such quietness to be received.
And virtually to breathe it in the blue
fumaturo rising from the tilth
of vineyards and olive groves, the dreamy
plumes of cypress and whitening grains,
inviting and warranting increases
of thanks—under such circumstances,
to feel a native force, like remembrance,
inquiring for the proper name of praise.