If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
At first the thunder and rain defeat
but then renew
the ground and break it terribly open. Now
even the dawn
has heavy darkness in it, the sun,
in silence seeming
to refuse the sky, has heeded what was needed,
to stun and try.
Having found a bird’s wing,
the whole thing—
maliciously from the bird’s body torn
no more for flying—
under the tree, I walk along
my lesson, as other better birds not born
for grieving sing.
I’m beginning to understand how wrong
I was, and long
it was I once believed that seeking you
was something I
could do alone. That was a lark.
The wind and the loud
hurrahs of cedar trees redress me. Stark
you are in this song.
On warming days I hear from the ground
the tiny sound
of water dripping, as if it’s slipping down,
and the living earth
is breathing out its sleep and waking.
Let me repeat,
the living earth is waking. And making the time
for sighing sweet.
O, teach me to untangle hope
from hope that’s false,
and lead me farther down the winding path
and whatever else
you think I need, because the angle
of the woven slope
of love and grief is steep. Unless the bind
is by design.
The possibility that part
of you is hidden,
in the mystical tradition of the word,
reveals the language of silence you
have always spoken.
Only our passionate symbols half-create
to feel the art.
To be involved in silence and yet
to listen to it,
to wander in the midst of nowhere, not
to know or hunger
to know, to be in constant prayer
though not to be through
with praying, to stand in the blaze of beauty to be
silent with you.
The track in the woods, the dead leaves
the little lines and signs of what has been
a sudden blur
of presence. How similar it is
to a new sentence
after reading it, how fine of you to leave it
or let it occur.
And you the listener and you
the very sound,
and you the knower and the knowledge, and you
the single thing
and everything, and you the certain
as nothing renders all, as grace comes through
the bitter fall.
The light, by fading, is purpling
its reddish look,
and though the water in the stream below
the hill heralds
its motion slowly down by singing,
the reflected tree
is as still as a word on the page, as I am still,
reading the book.
It is not the recognition of you
or my growing like a ring inside a tree
in knowing you
that burdens me yet lovingly,
but my acceptance
of that you have already given me,
your taking me.
So as you or part of you can die
and be divided
that we shall be not saved from suffering,
but saved instead
without hope or knowing it shall end,
you decided to give
this season, when passion is breaking out of the earth
no longer dead.
After feeling the world is falling
and following the gravity of grief,
strangely to reel
with relief—as if despairing cares—
and thin as a thread, and sundered by birds heard
pealing their prayers.
On the hill in the little mound of trees
of different kinds
and sizes, as if they give each other life,
as if the round
of trees is a single living thing,
I saw on the ground,
yet glistening, a drop of blood, and knew
it dropped from you.
To be reminded of grace is grace
the shadows fall. Illumination now
is lit, and lighter
is heavy life, yet like a lace,
with all its order
designed to be seen through, I see and avow
the bit that’s brighter.
The blue of the bare sky that’s pierced
by the sycamore is an agonizing art
of contrast and love—
not ordinary love, but vaster.
Though adding crows
for piercing those, is kindly devastation,
the beautiful part.
Now night is tangled in the hills
and like a river,
continuous, the darkness flows and goes
without an end,
like you, and as your darkness thrills,
I have discovered
your continuity, as trills of those
you shout and send.
It’s plain that everything is here—
what isn’t seen
serenely is evident by being beyond
A heaven-leaning, to be sure—
I can’t imagine
a question for you that isn’t already fondly
greening with answer.
Not wisdom or wisdom’s speech, not these
I seek, though sought,
or probably so, because I thought I should,
because to be wise
is prized. I’d rather now arrive
at the famous cloud,
and before it slowly not to know myself
and be caught in the breach.
It’s blue and greening now and the chill
of the dying ground
is all but gone and everything that’s green
is brightly clad
in slightly brighter green and filled
with a gladder sound—
the clatter of green abounds before it’s stilled
to sighing sound.
For something to begin with nothing
and end with all,
though not to end, in order to fulfill,
to be revealed
in full and yet requiring a fall—
from all created after you, compelled
to call for you.
Once I unwillingly become
remote from you
and wake to discover the distance I’ve suddenly gone,
I wonder who
was I, unknowing, following?
Then my own name
so starkly answers the wonder, paling, alone,
and burned by shame.
When rivers curl around and curve
as a hand to make
determined shapes and leave the land designed,
I marvel and take
a steady look to find your mind
behind the scene,
but see instead, in parsed and portioned green,
Let there be dew sprinkled and flung,
and let there be
on tiny branches shiny droplets hung
to reflect the sun.
Let me be moved by sparkling,
let you be proved
by everything that clings and pines to chime
The first triumphant violets
have found my gaze,
the tiny trumpeters have blown their horns
from the greening maze
and summoned me to notice, yet
only to see
them sunning there, so quietly reborn,
undoomed and free.
I confess, to have the burden off
and shine myself
in transformation never feels complete
enough or lasting,
though I admit discreetly wanting
the lighter load,
or a better way to bear it, or a place
to lay it down.
As I know it, time unwinds and slows
to seem more measured,
but another time is adding up, a tick
and ages pass,
so what was living once returns
to be more treasured,
becoming matter for the ground and pricked
to feed the grass.
To contemplate the sacrifice
and why it requires
a perversely formal ceremony of joy
before the anguish—
the jumble of shame and ornament,
the donkey ride—
unrhymable, all of this discord designed
There is no greater banality
than power whose force
and authority have been gained by great deceit
a righteousness. The lies unravel
now from the source,
but rather than claiming glory, you tender your heart
and soul for dying.
I build a temple out of sheets
and rags lowered
over the apple trees to keep the frost
from killing the flowers.
A child has done this hopeful feat,
to make a tower
from a tree with a sanctuary underneath
and room for a ghost.
In the final days if it is so
that I would turn
from you or deny I know you, please allow
and vanity to be forgiven
and help me more
to comprehend you, though I offend you. Bend
my knees to send you.
My sympathy persists for those
who couldn’t stay
awake when you were praying in the garden,
and twice you asked,
before the betrayer came and kissed you,
which didn’t sway
your purpose to take away the dark, or harden
your fiercest task.
In the purple dawn the paradox
of the day begins,
the crowds are cheering death in the very face
of saving grace—
the nails are hammered into the wood,
the blood glistens,
the curtain tears in two, by God, and we
proclaim it good.
The death is suddenly a fright,
it wrenches those
who wanted it and can’t undo it now,
and they go wailing.
My Lord, I heard a bird this night,
one mocking whose
enchanting stirred my heart to joy at how
it sang through failing.
The simplicity of coming back
to life, as a flower,
from desolation, the symbol now the fact,
the same power,
as if you rose up out of the ground,
in spring, in colorful passion, banishes
for Fenton Johnson and Brother Paul Quenon
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.