Here's a poem I wrote on Holy Saturday thirty-four years ago.
HOLY SATURDAY 4/2/88
Three hundred million light-years to the next county,
On the way maybe a five-billion solar mass black hole
(As Senator Dirksen used to say at budget time: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money”),
In the neighborhood, city center of the Milky Way, enough vodka (a molecule at a time, alas) to fill ten thousand earth-size goblets:
Perfect Symmetry: The Search for the Beginning of Time is the book that keeps me awake at 1 a.m. this Saturday when Christ lies in bonds of death
And our daughter, her pancreas shut down months ago like a white dwarf star,
And I, against a united front—insulin devouring sugar, flu virus casting it out—follow doctor’s orders: a tablespoon of Seven-Up every twenty minutes.
Light travels two hundred twenty-three million, five hundred twenty thousand, eight hundred miles between doses.
And marriage: messages blocked like X-rays by the atmosphere.
Rockets launched: some, like Uhuru (freedom in Swahili), pick up signals, some, like Challenger, explode.
How many light-years apart are we?
Could our light-years leap this leap year over the vast distance to come full circle and connect again?
In a curved universe light goes on until it comes back, a cosmic boomerang thrown by Einstein who would not believe God plays dice.
Yesterday soldiers threw dice for a seamless coat, and Mary raged and wept, and the sun was darkened five billion years ahead of time.
And now it’s time for another tablespoon of Seven-Up (“No caffeine: Never had it, Never will”).
Never, forever, now, then, tomorrow.
And miles to go before I sleep.
I could use an Easter.
~Patrick Henry, Theology Today, 45/4 (January 1989) 429
* * * * * * *
Here's a poem that is in effect an answer to the plea posed at the end of the previous one: "I could use an Easter." Published in 1992, it was written in August 1989, a little over a year after "Holy Saturday."
If I want to find God I can look high and low,
To the quasars in space or the way onions grow.
If I want to find God I can look in and out,
To my own mind's gyrations or rains ending drought.
If I want to find God I can look back, ahead,
To the rainbow of Noah or what Julian said –
"But all shall be well
And all shall be well,
And all manner of thing shall be well."
If I want to find God I can look over there:
A crucifix on a wall otherwise bare.
But not long ago, quite surprising to tell,
I found God while riding an old carousel.
It was sneaky of God – but God's an old sneak –
To catch me off-guard at the end of a week
When I'd rummaged through family letters and found
The dead coming to life as the decades turned round.
Faint ink on the pages set corpses to dance;
Their steps and their music put me in a trance.
When I turned to the present – their tombstones – a glance
Caused the rocks to dissolve – and here was God's chance.
I hop on the carousel, thinking no more
Than "It's no Tilt-a-Whirl, so the worst that's in store
Is a touch of the dizzies, but that will soon go,
Since the carousel's motion is measured, is slow."
And that's what it is – not too fast and no jerks,
Just up and down, round and round; no drama lurks.
No drama, that is, until God joins the ride
And is suddenly there on the horse at my side.
(I wish I could say that as my head turns
I see God as movies do: "Oh God!" George Burns!
I know God is here, sure as John Denver knew,
But what God may look like, I haven't a clue.)
The dizzies that follow this carousel's spin
Are not due to chemicals stirred up within.
The vertigo comes not from whirling around,
But from seeing the universe whole and unbound.
Saint Benedict saw all the world all at once.
That may sound like one of those medieval stunts,
But I figure he'd just ridden out from his cell
On a fine Roman horse on an old carousel.
For I know, not by words, from God sitting nearby,
I should look all way round at the earth and the sky
And drink it all in without limit or care
And get drunk on the sheer plenitude of what's there.
Eliot knew fear in a handful of dust;
So do I, but there's grace in this carousel's rust:
In decades now known through old photos, it must
Have taken on journeys like this those now dust.
My memory stirs: Oxford: Saint Giles's Fair:
The clowns and the din and the side-shows – the dare
To us erudite scholars to wonder if God
Might prefer the Fair, thinking our seminars odd.
The carousel takes me through time and through space,
To the edges of heaven, to the start of our race.
In a minute of turning all time twists up tight;
In a few yards of radius the stars all alight.
But the carousel stops. I get off and return
To the world I got on from. And now I must learn
What it means to this mortal to have sat for a spell
Next to God on an old, rusty, grand carousel.
Not much – at least not much that sounds great and fine;
It's mostly to keep eating bread, drinking wine,
Like my monk friend who, asked "Where for God do you search?"
Disappoints with his answer: just "I go to church."
But there is something more, and it's all that I need:
A new way to listen, a new way to read
The flotsam and jetsam of both quick and dead:
No idiot's tale, as Macbeth once said.
The steps that I trace in my ancestors' ink
Are not random motions, but rather a link
In the story of people who went for a ride
On God's carousel, with God sitting beside.
Dame Julian, no fool, doubted all could be well,
But she, too, rode round on God's old carousel,
And heard that God's promise is sound as a bell,
For Christ rose up farther than Adam once fell.
God found me while riding a merry-go-round,
And I learned some old words with an up-to-date sound:
We wish we may, we know we might
By turning, turning, come round right;
And all shall be well on God's carousel,
And áll mánner of thíng sháll be wéll.
~Patrick Henry, Theology Today, 49/2 (July 1992), 246-248