Sent from Troy, Alabama, September 1, 2005
All things fall, all things are built again….
————(For Bill Thompson)
How empty ring the petitions of the saved,
Like wind notes in an afterthought of wind
When the storm’s done, though the ravaged
Nearby you, nearby your salvaged town,
Troop like ragged pilgrims to some central dome
Where God reveals himself compassionate
Enough, we’re told, to die for us in groans
Flaring heavenward, and blood and shit.
Nature and history consume the great—
That’s old as the hills and clear as tar.
And here’s another palpable cliché:
Art is the bulwark of our fear.
Against North Sea surges steel walls drop,
So land’s reclaimed, computerized gates,
The size of ancient wonders, keep
The ocean from the port; profit saved
From a city threatened to seabed—
Limit gnaws at the bones of the lost
The way sins of the living will outlive the dead,
And the mind-warping proofs of physicists
Who envision portals beyond this present phase,
Other universes, other dimensions
Where we build anew without outrage,
Have not launched us free of our terminal sun.
In news footage they come, thrown overboard
By wind, by rain, by flood, by race, by lack,
Not the teeming collective of a cri de coeur,
But one by one, not the least emblematic.
Still, these bright shadows of the poor’s distress
Mark the gulf in our idea of home
That widens as the waters rise
To swell the wards, uncovering a shame
That shocks like some vast mural of the damned
Churning in fresco on the vaulted nave
Of a church become a house of the fallen,
Or a fallen house fled by the desperate saved.
The saint in rapt attention at the Word
Stands in the icon as on a rookery.
Beggar’s bowl and flagon swing from the edge
For the pious to fill for his subsidy,
While everywhere the sky shines golden
Into which he seems ready to ascend.
Nothing blemishes that comprehending glow,
Nothing but what looks like shades of damage
From centuries of seasons cured and stanched,
Though still the orb of the saint’s halo
From which he stares, his soul quenched
By the ethereal, seems the coin that buys us
Our redemption, or the calmest eye
In a storm of utter Light; still, there,
Below, what looks a marled, brooding tide
Floods up to the little chapel’s door
And changes the scene to tragedy:
A man pleads from a world consumed by waves
To us, to each of us, with his arms lifted,
As though it were we who needed to be saved.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.