The Unknowns

March 27, 2013

Imagine the eggshell ghosts
among the narrow statues
in a line taut as a sacristy cat—
all the unknowns.
All watch as a saint in a stained glass window
caught in the nameless sunrise is illuminated there.
Strange, isn’t it? How feline his features!
He looks to be tormenting rats
he has trapped in a box. A parable, yes?
Music is playing, an unknown requiem,
for the unnamed saint—
but something has made
the choir scream with laughter.
You will find no more metaphors here,
my friend, not among these rafters.

Every ghost is known by someone still alive.
When the cat and the saint prowl through the pews,
the church above is like the hereafter.
All grace is silent and unknown;
that’s the news,
that’s the laughter.

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2 Responses to “The Unknowns”

  1. Anna Mark Says:

    Hello there. I find both of your new poems very beautiful, difficult but pleasurable to read. The rhyme, the imagery and the personal connections they inspire in me. I am intrigued by the laughter of the choir, the sacristy cat, the grace (grace that defies human logic, that is maybe even foolish). The image of the saint caught in the sunrise illuminated there and how this is also our way of watching. Wow. And the presence of the ghosts at the beginning and again at the end…what are these ghosts? I interpret the poem most clearly when I attach to the words at the end of the poem: All grace is silent and unknown;/that’s the news,/that’s the laughter. There is also a clear tension between all the unknowns and what is known. The poem ends with a statement of knowing what grace is and with a kind of invitation for me to know my own ghosts.

    Jim, I read this poem after attending a Catholic service in a cathedral in Guelph. Bishop attending. It has brought me to some interesting places internally and I will remember your imagery when I sit in that space again, the windows, the light, the communion table and the cat, the nameless saints and all the unknowns.

    Fabulous.

  2. extrasimile Says:

    There is a cathedral near where I live that happens to have a world class organ. Every so often I get to hear a first rate organ concert. An organ in a cathedral is really one big instrument. It must be quite a kick to be able to play there. I know I enjoy sitting the relatively empty pews listening to the music move around me. Seems like it might make sense to say ‘The Unknowns’ is my attempt at playing the poem/ church instrument. Let the words bounce around inside and see if anything like music happens.
    I guess for me the starting point here is the problem of evil. This maybe the starting point for all religious practice—but let me not get too grand here. The cat is hunting in the nave, doing its job of keeping down the mice and rat population. There is a strangely feline image of a saint portrayed in one of the stained glass windows. A parable is hinted at. What, is he up there torturing rats? Cats do torment their prey before they kill. At this point someone in the choir gets the parallel the poem has been playing with. Ever get a fit of giggles while sitting in church? It’s mighty hard to stop.
    Every ghost is known by someone still alive. The Dominion of the Dead gains its power over the world by this knowledge (see Robert Harrison’s book of the same title. It’s quite a striking treatment of death—and its human position). Ghosts who have been forgotten…is this another cruelty or a blessing?
    Of course the poem gives you the answer: All grace is silent and unknown.
    Anna, I am tremendously flattered that you find this poem worth reflecting over–taken into church, as it were. It’s certainly not a work of conclusions. If I have a chance later today, I will move on to Easter Condensed. They obviously have something to do with each other.


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