Avoiding It

Kahlil Gibran

You have asked me,
Several times now,
If ever
I would put my love for you
Onto the page,
If ever I would express,
For the world to see and
Hear it, what blessed thing
Blossoms, daily,
In the close spaces
Between us

Why have I demurred?

Perhaps it is because I
Am still so very young
In love’s estimation;
Because love, and I mean,
Of the authentic kind,
Has – grail-like, fugitive – eluded each
Fevered grasping, every 
Nervous essay, into its domain.
It doesn’t help, either, that this

Love, so-called, has everywhere become
The manhandled bromide of
Every half-feeling songster of our age.
The poets of the past –
These at least knew something of great feeling:
Their hearts would swell into melody
Under august rivers of feeling,
Grow immeasurable, boundless, eternal
– So wondrous and sublime
Were they their maidens
In the expectant, sun-wide eyes
Of their estimation.

But these ones, too, sadly,
They knew real love
Only from afar,
In the same way
That an exiled generation will, dimly,
As in shadows,
Envisage the
Green hills of their forefathers’
Native land, mellifluous with
Bird-song and laughter;
These ones, I say, only spoke of love
In the way that they did,
Because they had not yet been
Into it’s bewildering landscape:
Love, so often a bitter crucible of
Was for them merely the
Exalted abode
Of rapture,
Pure and unending:
A cup, from which
The ambrosial distillation
Of their yearning
Could be drunk and drunk,
And forever drunk,
World-without-end; a
Chalice that would feign,
Lover’s lips upon beloved’s,
A consummate and indissoluble
End to that ceaseless yearning
With which we are all born
And must bear,
Like a fateful burden,
All our long and heavy lives…
– They never guessed what
Lurked, like a poison, hidden and sable,
At the bottom of that disgorged delight,
What swam in waiting circles
On the mute floor
Of their ecstasy…

And so, if there is anything I can say,
I suppose it is this:
That the journey towards another
Is really a pilgrimage
Into deep solitudes,
A going-forth into starless
This is the path
With which we
Must all contend,
Must wrestle with, and wrestle with,
Ceaselessly, if we are
To become ourselves.

And you, dear, you
Seem to know this, better than
Most – seem to grasp,
As if it were grafted into your very
Blood, the secret
Which, deeply, soundlessly,
Courses through all living things;
That Wisdom that in everything
Burns softly, like hearth-ember –
And then will flash out suddenly,
As in the startled flush
Of thrushes’ wings, or
Within the holy stillness of the forest,
When one is alone there
Among the silent stature
Of all the trees…

For all this, and more,
Do I love you, though I
Am still so very young in
Love’s estimation


I and Thou

Rain clouds dance to no rhythm
across the sky. Playing light and shadow
upon the mountainsides.

The swell and swoon of heartspeak in this movement.

Speaks of me. Speaks of you.

Speaks of the restless drama, silent and eternal,
In all things



The Babels we erect in our hearts
Crumble into shadow,
rise again, and crumble

And the way you thought was the way:
Vanishing now into the void 
of all your failures

And the blood in you:
Draining out into the night
widening between you and everything

And, by some miracle, you are found:

God – Happens

Comes singular and soft,
like a solitary dove, soaring
over the black wreckage of your heart,
comes and nests in the one
still-standing steeple of your selfhood

And out of this…what?

…can it even be named?

Perhaps the whole of life then:
But to witness this great
work of the Creator in you,
undertaken at night,
accomplished in secrete,
and sealed in silence;
to feel His hands
kneading you, slowly,
painfully, into the heart of everything,
plunging you in and out of hopelessness,

seasoning you

Approching Art…(Part II)

There are moments when something strikes you, and must therefore be written down – however approximate and incomplete – before it is forgotten. This is what struck me today…

Regarding beauty, one must allow oneself to become lost in its bewildering landscape. One must, as it were, pick up one’s brush and canvas, and participate – lose oneself – in its vast dance. The point of a painting or of a piece of music is to draw, entice, introduce – to set one, if it can be put in these terms, along the right course. But one cannot simply rest content there. One does not achieve blessedness, finality, in the mere act of beholding. No indeed. Art and beauty cease to be a simple matter of detached taste when they are stepped into and the terror begins. It is like being caught by the wind and then flung like laundry out into the open sea. I say again: beauty must be stepped into, like a furnace. There is great risk here, for one does not know how things will turn out, what the final product of one’s efforts will look like. But waiting, sitting, admiring  – these are all death if they don’t lead one into losing oneself completely, entirely. And when this happens, one realizes, perhaps for the first time, that they are very small indeed, merely a humble, timid guest in the great expanse that is life.

Approaching Art…


I would never pretend to try and define art – its purposes, meaning, and modes – under any one, all-encompassing label. There has been so much said on the topic – and most of it leading nowhere – that I have always had a natural distaste for considerations that remain solely on the detached, theoretical plane. Or perhaps I simply don’t have the mind for it. I would be willing to admit to that, too. But I do have my thoughts regarding what it means to be a specifically spiritual artist. Or at least, what being an artist means for me as a spiritual person – in my life, in my experience. Throughout my life, I have always been drawn to art, of whatever kind (music, literature, poetry, painting, photography, etc.), that draws me into a life-changing encounter with beauty. I realize that talking about beauty in such a way might not be fashionable – too cliché and all that (I seem to remember serious talk of beauty being dismissed, somewhat condescendingly, in philosophy class at school). But I take comfort in the fact that I have Mary Oliver on my side. If you’ve ever read her poem, “The Swan,” you know what I mean.

So to be a spiritual (and in my case, a Christian) artist, then, means that your work – and ideally the whole of your life – becomes a kind of expressive channel, or medium, for beauty. The kind of beauty that redeems because it is on some level, as Rilke said, terrifying to the core, in the fullest sense of the expression. Your life and work communicate an experience of the Mystery to others’ hearts, the Mystery that is as blindingly bright as it is broodingly dark (and even painful). The spiritual artist is one who goes about art ultimately as an act of service. They lead others to God through the depth of what they feel and, by extension, the depth of their own humanity. “Self-expression” and “God-expression” thus merge into the selfsame act, the selfsame way of life. I often find that there is a kind of necessity, therefore, to great artists and great works of art. You get the feeling that this or that work of art, simple or grand, famous or obscure, was created out of an encounter – conscious or unconscious – with something that both penetrates and emanates from from the very depths of us. You are drawn, enticed, into the great ocean, the great furnace, the great solitude of beauty. The only question worth asking next is, “And have you changed your life?”    

“This American Life”

Running deeper than
Coincidence, and the meaning
We try
And cobble from it,

Deeper than the
Utterances of our newspaper augurs, or
That special kind of benevolence
We call miracle,

There is the commingling
Of Blood.
Yours, mine, and

A shooting star alights
While we kiss in the twilight:
Might portend something –
Might not.

So might the fact
That we knew each other
For a time
As kids

We try. God,
Do we try.

But there is a harrowing
With which, despite ourselves,
We cannot contend, cannot

Which will despoil
Us of what we arrange
So delicately, like crystal,
In the reliquary of the heart.

The only thing, therefore:

To feel the magnitude of it all
Become music in the clear
Night air,
Become dancing.

“Thy Kingdom Come”


Lord, our life ripens
On branches pulsing with
Your darkness. And you are
The unseen center of the world’s
Solitude, woven like spider’s
Web through every shadow
And dark corner,
Draped like pall over every
Tomb for ruined hearts,
Scattered like manna across
The desert of our
Ceaseless wandering

Deo Gratias – A Prayer


Just as a stretch of brume
Will with heaven suddenly
Part –
Will, wayward,
From its source in cloudwork host,
And begin to wend its way
Through barren mountain passes,
The rent and the rift of them as it
Courses, unveiling in its wake, at long last,
A beatitude of color,
Joyous, brimful,

Newborn, where before
Loveliness held no dominion,
Where before the scabrous basalt
Twisted with rage
Scabrous, twisted
And cruel,
Each one angry at life
And at every other,

Angry at the
Loutish, slogging Sun
That doesn’t care,
And never will,
And at the hoarse wind
That whips through them
Ceaselessly, howling…

Their primal,
Toungeless, cry
– for what? –
Become a soundless resounding
Through each cavernous
Steep, swallowed up
Once and for all
By the listless
In which no star would seem to burn
For hope’s nightwatch…

– Yes, just so, Lord,
Just so did you pass
Through all of man’s inexplicable
Suffering, only to leave man himself
– Inexplicably, shall I say miraculously? –
In bloom.


Coming to Terms with It

Perusing through old photographs:

Of this one as a child

Little frozen memories
Mother has guarded all
These years, collected
Into lean, cardboard-covered folios
Against the ineluctable
Moldering of time.

Flipping through the leaves
Of this life
Traversing its arch
In seasons: An infant,
Face crunched and rudy,
Swaddled in his mother’s arms, here;
There, a pudgy boy unwrapping
His birthday gifts
Among distracted friends;
Then the eldest of three siblings
Upon a sky-blue colored sofa,
Five years older than the rest,
And already beginning
To ask in his heart

The looming question,
The only question,


Soon he’s about eleven,
Wearing glasses,
And awkward in his adolescence,
Wishing he were
Somewhere else,
Anywhere else,
Than “here.”

Studying that face, as if it
Were somehow other than my own:
A growing presentiment, a
Mounting sadness,
Gathering like storm clouds.
Like black pools
Upon the ruinous flame he
Doesn’t yet see, but which draws
Near irrevocably,
And will hound him
All his life –
Smoke him out of foxholes
Of contentment, and chase
And chase him
Through the long night…

Push him so far into hopelessness
That he can no longer run





At the base of the mountain, at
The point where the folds of her
Bosom, like furrowed satin, tumble
Downward into graceful, flowing rivers
Of rounded foothills, and
Join the darkening flat-pan below,
There is a place
Where one can sit alone, or stand,
And under the flickering faces of all the stars
A Presence, dark and holy, feel it
Descending out of vast spaces,
Out of chaste silences –
Something like the Mystery of this life…

Inclining like a kiss
It strains into fingered pierce-point
To rive ribs partite, then
Brand all labored breathing with
An effulgence of song
– set a holy rumor through
The stagnant blood and ashen
Members, unto the
Final, rapturous rest of all things.

“Master, it is good for us to be here.
Let us put up three shelters.”


Oh God, and yet…
“He did not know what he was saying.”