I am much comforted by ordinary things
by the whalebone covers of my missal
and warmer to my hand than amber
or by the cry of gulls
greedy as pagans for the bread we throw
on seas so troubled and so terrible
I am amazed God made them
except I stand upon a cliff
and see man’s end.
Without the lift of faith
we fall with all we are
to northern waters.
I need no skull, no simulacrum
to set my threadbare vanity apart
I have the world’s mad fear of falling falling
a hundred feet below my fragile cell.
Sheep’s pates, much chastened by the rain
show a night path to chapel
and their rancid pelts
fleece my slow feet. Ink freezes.
Wanton butterflies are blown
starving and out of season
above the frayed ends of brown thrift.
Truly the winter here has trials for old men.
A mavis taps a snail shell with its beak
and all my body shrills.
My bruises are with Stephen’s. But my will?
We cannot lure you from the south, I think
my Asian anchorite, my brother,
to hear the same bird sing.
Drab as a sparrow, God’s economy,
poor dormouse of the stalks,
and yet it reaches upwards for a note
and all my seals are breaking with its song.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.