You, boy, listen. You open doors,
it isn’t coming from there, no, not
from there, either, it isn’t on the stairs
on in the wallpaper, it’s not in your
father’s chair. You check the beebox,
but it is humming, a honeycreeper,
it isn’t their thrumming he hears. You go so far
as to ask the crowkeeper if you may stand
near the great carceral. And there is sound
there, but it is more like a vesper,
and what you seeks is a whimper.
No, that’s the wrong word. You are
searching for the source of the whisper.
You pray without ceasing, in time
with your cardinal heart beating. Your
brothers are rioting, your mother is sleeping,
you have no scriptorium, no cell, you would
hide behind the altar curtain, crawl
into the reliquary, anything for some
privacy. In families, chaos is a human
right, and you are just
a mendicant who dreams you
are the silent anchorite. Silly, really,
the arc light of God that shines
meadow bright in your head, day and night.
You come from a family of thinkers, after all
of cynics and empiricists and drinkers.
For years after the catechumen, the baptism,
the chrism, your time as a postulate, your ordination,
you lie face down on the stone floor, you’ve found
your vocation. Poverty, chastity, obedience, the daily
unchanging, arising in darkness, asceticism, renunciation,
this is your sacred calling. The ringing bell, the Prime,
the Terce, the Angelus, the Sext. You find plaintive
joy in the Vespers, a deep ecstatic lamenting, Matins
of the Dead, and you read, you light the lamps, take
your meager meals. You hold true to the Office of the
Lady, but have given your soul to the Libera
me: requiem, requiescat, mercy, mercy, viaticum.
You pace the grounds even in winter, channeling
a path near the stone wall. Not all, certainly not all
of it is troubling you, but you are troubled, it isn’t
like you, you are the silent jubilant, peace-filled
supplicant, ecce homo. When did you become
a fossarian, the clergyman moonlighting as a
gravedigger? Why do you carry the hearsecloth,
why do you go down each night into the undercroft
and press your face into your black cloth cassock,
as if it were embroidered in flames and marked
your condemnation? This is not an Inquisition.
And yet nightly you go down, and you lean against
the vaults, and you do not move. You do not
move. You hear the dark train pull into the
transubstantiation, and you still believe in
everything you swore. Nonetheless, you reach
up blindly and pull the misericord.
Who are your dead? Not your family,
they are shadows to you now, although
you recall both hilarity and tragedy, and
you are bound to them. Not your faith,
or your love of the magnificat, the mysterium
tremendum – you are still unhinged with awe,
ubiquitarian: for you, Divinity is everywhere.
How did it happen, and when? Was it
that moment last spring, the sky so fair,
when you stood before the cherry tree
and watched the pink blossoms let go
and sail free? Was it the moment the tree
became not nature but Thou, fully actual
and real? And the spirit entered you:
verticality, the horizontal wall that spared
you profanity, the slight hill that held
the tree, and the light – if you could just
keep it, freeze it somehow. Now do you know?
It wasn’t your heart that betrayed you,
it was beauty, that sky, your eyes.
Your dead are attending a dance
at the home of the Misses Morkan,
a waltz is played, concluded, Gabriel
is preoccupied with a speech he will give
at the table. He remembers something
he wrote in a review, One feels that one
is listening to thought-tormented music.
Old friends talk, as they do, and debate
whether Caruso was the greatest tenor,
and a goose is carved and dinner is served,
and you remember reading the story
the first time, how long it took you
to realize what was happening, how grief
unwraps itself in our most lovely distractions.
The whole of the story, the history
of a loving marriage is contained in a single
image, a woman standing half in shadow
on a staircase, listening to a man singing.
Your dead are everyone who waltzed that evening,
and Michael Furey, the delicate boy
with the clear boy’s voice, and his eyes,
and his illness, and how he died for love.
And Gabriel, standing at the window knowing
finally, that the snow is general all over Ireland.
Requiem, requiescat, Joyce, viaticum.
You have gone astray, and not in any usual way
but by falling in love with fencerows and daylight,
lines underscoring Being itself, and images cause you
to remember yourself: how it all used to be the same,
the novels of Faulkner were no different than the tale
told by a swirl of starlings rising from a tree,
your passion for photography, a boy who searched
for the taproot of reality. It was the world
whispering to you on that day; not the still,
small voice we haven’t heard and never will.
You are drunk now on beauty; art is your whiskey,
your moveable feast, and you will ride away,
you will find the way, Whiskey Priest,
to trade your shroud for sublimity.
The power and the glory are not your measure.
Your genius and your luck intertwine:
All you have to do is wake up, and open your eyes,
and there is the divine, your sacrament, your treasure.