Friday, December 10, 2021

Merton and Dickinson

 I was a whole day ahead of myself.  So it goes.

So here are two poems I wrote about Merton:

( I wrote this when I lived in Charleston SC  in 1985)

Thomas Merton checks on his trees.


 I sit on the bed  above the chimneys.

Palmetto trees,

willows, live oaks,

disappear into the candlelight

blue in the solstice light,

air still warm,

red camellias blooming in the garden below.


I sit on the bed,

thinking sunset

over the mountain in Maryland,

 deer leaping in the empty battlefield,

grey deer with  tree bark

in snow scattered grey grass.


I sit on the bed,

thinking Thomas Merton

walking  Kentucky woods

in  blue December light

twenty years ago,

checking on trees he planted

in anguish,

 loblolly pines grown tall and graceful,

bending in the sharp December wind,

taller still

twenty years later,

 trees he planted in anguish.


I sit on the bed,

checking on trees I planted:

Pink crab apple trees twenty years ago,

palmettos tonight.    



 (and I wrote this one here in Emmitsburg, about 2017)

Thomas Merton Walks Around Shining 

His hermitage stands sturdy in the sun.
The front porch longs to feel his heavy tread.
The windows wonder what it is he’s done
In Thailand in the room where he lies dead.
The little house would long to see him write
In hours when the winter sky was bleak
He found within himself the world’s delight
Where only on the pages he could speak.
The living conscious Christ engulfed him there,
The well of seeing, splashing into sound.
He found himself beneath the eye of God,
The God of Seeing, tearing up the ground.
He tells his novices it’s something rare—
A love that only poets can compare.



And Emily....


 ( I wrote this one about 1997)

On a Superhighway in Maryland


after Allen Ginsburg


Sometimes I think of you, Emily Dickinson, when I am standing in the pouring rain,

feeling my blouse cling to my back, my hair drip into my eyes.

Sometimes I think of you while eating potato chips, and your starvation.

Sometimes I think of you when I see the oven bird make her unobtrusive rounds

on the ground outside my kitchen window.

I am so excited to see her there that she would never understand.


In my hungry numbness, and searching for answers, I drove onto the Beltway, dreaming of your

spare words.

What flashing lights! What cutting in! Tractor trailers sliding by me on the left!

Lanes full of vehicles built for snow! Business women talking on cell phones in their black sedans... and you, May Sarton, what were you doing in the moving van?


O Emily Dickinson, I am on my way to the Carmelite cloister

where I feel your spirit,

where I glimpse your thin shoulders heaving

at the towhee in the birch,

where I hear you imitate the love song of the house wren,

so lush compared to your spare human nouns.

I brave the Beltway to go there

and you are with me in the passenger seat,

listening with me to the radio, to the songs of my youth.

Come on baby light my fire.

Why do fools fall in love?

I see you there in the passenger seat, gripping the dashboard,

surrounded by a fiery mist.


On the way to your grave in the meadow,

Sue spoke of your treasures of fruit and flower.

She said you sat in the light of your own fire.

She said, so well you knew your chemistries, that

your swift poetic rapture was like the long glistening  note of a bird

one hears in the June woods at high noon but can never see.


Sit beside me here in the traffic, Emily Dickinson,

and tell me about your selections.

Who did you watch as they carried your small body out to the hill

in May covered with flowers?


It is October as we ride the Beltway in the glaring morning sun.

Emily Dickinson, what do you say about the angry red cars,

the roaring black four wheel drives that loom behind me?


What do you say about this walled city of streaming metal

and gas fired speed?

Will the flickering brake lights

make you sink to the floor of the car, sick with vertigo?

Will the hissing of rubber on asphalt, the tumult of a thousand engines

make you want to disappear behind the tan concrete walls?

Will we drive all day in this exhausted maze?

We’ll both be burned.

Will we reach Carmel, and stroll in the lost country of prayer?

Oh, Emily, frail and sherry-eyed, lonely scribbler,

what relief did you have when the carriage stopped for you?



 ( and this one more recently, in about 2019)


 Emily’s Handwriting

Surprised me

So sure it would be cramped, neat

As her bedroom must have been

Though why my supposings leaned

That way,

I ask myself.



It’s loose limbed penmanship

Penwomanoceanliner free

And unpredictable

As waves.


Capital A’s  as large as omelets,

Loops of lowercase h’s and f’s

Longing as trebles,

Wild as clefs.





No comments: