What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.
Eggshell, bone, swan’s fleece pearl—lactescent statuary
In the Belle Chapelle, saints’ bodies as though fast frozen
In stone, their eyes intent, hands gestural in their stillness,
Arrayed there where the savior’s being entombed, corpse
Lowering on water, no, a winding sheet unfolded, flowing,
The mirror to his mother lowered at the transept’s end.
April. Easter. Simone with her mother among the throng
Come to hear the monks at prayer, their ancient chanting
The melisma aloft and blissful of time, eternity, each note
Hurting her like a blow. So she fixates, lets the splitting
Ache inside her skull be what it is, flesh, heaps the flesh
Where it belongs: into the corner. Deus interior intimo meo,
God closer to me than I am to myself, Beauty real, Truth real:
“In course of these services the thought of the Passion
Entered my life, once and for all.” And entering there, too,
As on stage, her two Englishmen, “angel boy,” “devil boy,”
One handing her Herbert, radiance beaming from his face,
The other who dreamed he’d be a writer, handing her Lear.
What is the cross but a lever, “going down to rise up,”
While the whole universe weighs on us as on everything,
“And God the only counterweight” who comes over to us
“Through the thickness of time and space”—coming now,
Like light through stained glass where, for a thousand years,
Walls have risen above this river, their likeness in its rush.
———————–(A Pythagorean Notion)
Here, now: God the architect, God geometer as on the icon
Where the First Person, robed (the cross of the Second blazing
Inside his halo) stoops with his compass over the portioned
Cosmos that appears like an ovum at the bottom of the frame;
No, into it as though in vitro, ordinal, numerary, inseminating
The primordial with the golden symmetries, lucent, perpetual,
And gravity “the work of creation” whereby God through love
“Ceases to be everything” so that there might be something,
And God present in each as in a host, or by a code, tetradic,
Triangle inside a circle inside a square (the Third’s presence)
At the core, and at the center the body outreaching, Vitruvian,
Nothing ever in its own becoming not wholly a part of God—
Though from here everything looks wholly apart from God,
Like the tortured naked body on its cross, forsaken, Vitruvian,
And matter itself an emptying through this broken symmetry,
The universe “a case of contradictions,” both of them true,
God and No God, “for there is nothing that resembles
What is conceived when I say the word,” and so every bridge
Is a tearing asunder, the tree of knowledge a real tree, the tree
Of life a wooden beam, track along which the centuries pass
Like trains, already a mind, twisted, designing the ashen camps
And, at the fringe, Simone feels the hot iron singeing her brow.
Soon now, millions of randomly angled bags, piled, pyramidal,
Wait timelessly for carriers at the last gate, traveling nowhere….
In the eye between the Anschluss and blood-fires of Guernica,
(Like a brilliant point of light beyond the Duce’s folded arms),
She has entered the chiesetta, Porziuncola, “the little portion”
Where the saint would kneel in prayer, where the raw wounds
Scored themselves into his feet and hands, his palms open,
Arms stretched wide, like one who embraced the firing squad—
Tracer rounds of love shot from God’s body to his own.
Not in the great church, “abominable,” built around this cell,
Not under the high dome’s atmosphere, but hunkered here
She feels for the first time, alone, “something stronger than I”
(Though isn’t God “withdrawn from the universe” powerless
Within it?), that compels her now to go down on her knees.
Outside, Brother Sun pours over Umbrian hills his canticle
Of light, Sister Moon hides patiently behind day’s blue veil,
While Brother Wind and Sister Water flow down and through
The olive trees on the low descending slopes of Sister Earth.
Somewhere, under Brother Fire’s stars, the saint is preaching
To his congregation of birds, and all the wolves of Gubbio,
Benignly murderous, bowing, offer their paws to his hands.
And if it must be sacrificed, this nothing, this created self
Like the saint in his transito, is it only cold matter sifting
Into itself again, swap of energies, the nameless Zero Sum,
Not the sudden combustion of bluebirds from a raven flock
As Little Sister Bodily Death calls all her playmates home?
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.