A Desert Father Looks Back

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"…as if religion were a state of shock,
deep, peaceful shock, that…men like these
are driven into by the spectacle of reality."
—Peter Matthiessen in The Cloud Forest

Lacking a living body, the true cross shivers
And forms a dark ice. God is driven out
Of the churches back to the hidden groves and rivers,
The old sanctuaries. Still, though stiff with the grout
Of habit in all their joints, they form on the pews
For the holy days, to pray and small-talk grace
While the plugged organ trembles the religious blues.
I’ve sat among them and made the proper face
For their assembly—a primitive nervous system
That works its members after the mind is gone—
And long disliked myself because I kissed them
A greeting to fake a folk than be alone
Though they meet in the public gloom of a museum.
Congenital from the first and second birth,
Hobbling through each vulgarized te deum,
They are deformity trying to reform the earth.
The cross was once their civilization’s sprout.
God’s greenery gone now, nothing left but wood,
Their souls are like locust casings in the drought
Of a sky so plain it cannot be understood.
I’ve watched them altarward selling their lord alive
With the same pitch used to move their market stuff
And for their impiety thought Christ did not drive
The changers from the temple far enough.
Children of fear, their fold is built of blocks,
Its biblical windows stained, not looking out
Though the Ghost himself try all the doorway locks.
What is averted is not exactly doubt
But the empty finishes of the modern twilight,
The great waltz stumbling down to barroom jigs,
Infrared dreams, the odorless ultraviolet
Pain of winter sunlight on the twigs,
The winds that turn the galaxies about,
The arrogance of the long-robed mountains tensed
For the final dance that starts at the bridegroom’s shout.
O realist Christ the church has long romanced,
I may have gone where nothing much will sprout
When all the local pastures came unfenced,
But these believers long ago went out
Of touch with all belief is up against
To give itself a height and depth and girth.
What troubles their feet or catches at their breath
Except when it splits the groin of the roof as birth
Or crashes up through the hardwood floor as death?

Jene Beardsley's poems have appeared in The Amherst Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Luna Negra, among other magazines. He lives in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

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