So, I had a poetic breakthrough today. I've been fiddling with a 44 line poem since last fall. I'd work on it a bit, then leave it. It's grown slowly, starting from just a few small lines. But, I've had a growing sense it needed to be part of a much more ambitious work to really reach my goals for it. I am trying to experiment with the modernist style of T.S. Eliot, fused with my normal iambic pentameter, rhyming verse. I'm clearly no Eliot, nor is my goal to nail an imitation of his style, but rather I am trying to apply some lessons from his poetry to make my own style a bit less of a pseudo-neo-Classical style with too much raw emotion. Eliot advises, and I think for good reason, that the poet's job is to distill raw emotion into what the New Criticism dubbed “the objective correlative.” That term refers to creating objective descriptions that evoke particular emotions rather than merely describing the emotions themselves. A great example comes from Archibald MacLeish's “Ars Poetica,” which states, “For all the history of grief / An empty door / And a maple leaf.” Think about those lines for a moment — does not “An empty door / And a maple leaf” describe a biting grief far better than any direct description could likely provide?
At any rate, I'm not exactly a fast poet, but I managed to write another 78 lines today, consisting of parts of two more poems. Quantity is not how one should measure poetic success, but it is the way one measures how close one is to completing the framework of a project. The project now may include up to ten poems which will form a larger poetic sequence. My original poem fits in as the third poem in the sequence.
Here are the first lines as they presently are written:
Shadows mark untrue casts of reality,
A silent world lacking validity,
Those visitants dance and flicker as
The dark wood, staid oaks and pines, sway now.
An ache beyond the words I know, will know,
Illude my muse to sing out in any key.
Agent Mark Douglas watched his partner Cassandra Myers as she continued to hold a lively conversation with the department's chief investigative officer. He smiled a sad, melancholy smile. If he let his eyes close part way, as they were apt to do this time of night, the blurred figure of Myers reminded him of Jess Hudgins. Hudgins had been his best friend through college, often prodding him to finish assignments when he did not feel like it and spending time talking about whatever caught their fancy, as they sat on a bench in the quad. She was, in his estimation, absolutely perfect and he had fallen deeply for her, but though he was apt to offer a compliment, he never volunteered that much too her. She was his dear friend and, well, that he was just fearful to say anything that might wreck that.
Myers had slapped her phone closed at some point, but Douglas was off into the past. Cassandra sighed, why was Douglas always sitting there with a stupid look on his face while she dealt with the idiots back at the office? He was going to have to talk to them next time. She called out his name, but he was oblivious. A little sharper — “Mark!”
He finally came to. “Oh, yes, sorry Cassie, I was just thinking.”
“Yes, I know, thinking, thinking. There's too much of that going on around here! You know who thinks this case isn't really worth having an investigative team on — he wants to chalk it up to small time vandalism! Is he insane?”
“Small time vandalism does seem a bit of a lightweight accusation against someone going from church to church and hacking off their doors. I'm not sure how bad this is, but it is at least odd enough to warrant a little investigation.”
“That's what I told him. He said we'd discuss it in the morning, but we could stay on it for at least a few hours.”
Thomas looked outside from his laptop and noticed that the agents were no longer on the phone. He closed the lid of his laptop and walked out side.
“Wouldn't you too liked to come back in? It is such a nasty night out there,” he said, gesturing towards the glowing light of his kitchen. The agents shrugged and started to walk toward him when a small clicking sound just loud enough to be noticeable came from somewhere near where the front of the church had been vandalized. All three turned and looked toward the gaping hole where the door had been just in time to see a bright flash of light and here a sickening boom. The three were knocked to the ground.
“Skotia Thelossa,” Thomas muttered to himself. “It is going to kill me.”
LXIV. Shadows dance across walls,
A soft, playful twirl, gentle — gentle,
Oh, unreal yet real!
LXV. A cricket sings softly,
What tales does he sing aloud
Amidst the evening?
LXVI. In the cave's soft light,
What fantastic things can be,
That show not above?
LXI. A lonely thought about
The soft sounds of a tree frog,
Who knows not of it.
LXII. What is this odd place,
That my thoughts arrive at now,
Like a long spring rain?
LXIII. The words do not come,
To match thoughts that bubble up,
Shall the thoughts erupt?
A former professor of mine was telling me the other day that she was reading an argument about spring being a “crime of passion.” This, she suggested provides a “synthesis” to correspond with Chaucer's “thesis” (“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote”) and Eliot's “antithesis” (“April is the cruelest month”). I felt inspired tonight to write a little poem of synthesis.
Treasonous rain pours upon the dead leaves,
A gentle tyrant killing passions of spring,
Marching, marching, marching blossom killed
And plant drowned by the tears of hopeful clouds.
The rotting leaves of spring reveal the crime
Of Season covertly tantalizing trees,
Poor and senseless of the impending doom
Cruel nature saves to dash the sprouts of dreams.
Treason! Treason! Poisoned swords are ignored,
Usurpers die 'longside their rightful kings.
The lurid rain robs the colors of day,
And brings to earth a monotone of gray,
Awashes off the new birthed signs of life,
But leaves neither spent poison nor used knife.
LVIII. Silent happiness
Instills a sense of mourning
For the noise of joy.
LIX. The birds did sing then,
As they do now, flowers bloom.
But how diff'rent then!
LX. Water glistens now,
Puddle in the water bottle,
One last time. Empty.
LV. Wind blows, blows and blows,
Winter's desires are swept
Away by Spring's march
LVI. Truth. What is this thing
That slips through my hands like sand
Or a startled bird?
LVII. A bird perches there,
Quietly observing the view,
As all else goes by.
Father Thomas sat at his kitchen table, drinking his coffee as he waited for the police to arrive. He let his head rest in his hands as the aroma of the coffee tried — but failed — to make him feel any better. “Think Scott, think, who would possibly attack your church?” The thought whirled around in his mind, much faster than the lazy ticking of the clock in the background.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Twelve fifteen. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. The sound lulled him for a moment, before a firm knock on the parsonage's front door brought him to and he lurched up and towards the door. He reached the door and it opened after a slight complaint. Two stern people stood at the door, a rather short man and a somewhat taller woman. The woman spoke first, “Hi, you must be Father Thomas. Agent Cassandra Myers and this” she motioned toward the man, “is Agent Mark Douglas.”
“Come in, come in.” Thomas motioned in and toward warm light that spilled down the hall from the kitchen. “Would you like a cup of coffee? I had just poured myself a cup before you knocked.”
Douglas nodded. “If it wouldn't be too much trouble, sure. We saw the door, or I should say, the remains of the door, on the way in. You say you heard a chain saw?”
“Yes, I had just crossed through the passageway — you see, we have a passageway that connects the chapel to the parsonage — and was preparing to make my evening coffee when I heard this noise. I'm not sure what I was going to do — I'm really not sure at all! — but I heard this saw like noise and took off for the chapel. It didn't take me long to figure out where it was coming from.”
Myers frowned. “Mmhmm. But, you didn't see the perpetrator?”
“No, by the time I reached the narthex —”
“The north what,” Douglas asked.
“The narthex. The lobby, if you will.”
“Ah, ok. So right by the door.”
“That's right. Anyway, by the time I reached the door, it wasn't really there to reach.” Thomas chuckled wearily. “I must say, for all the things I feared might be stolen out of the chapel, the front door was never really one of them.”
“What kind of door was it? Was it of any value?”
Thomas poured two more cups of coffee and set them down by the agents' places at the table. “Uh, well, really nothing special. It was wood. I guess it could have been worth something — it was, as far as I know original to the chapel, which would make it about seventy five years old. But, other than a little carving, it really wasn't anything special.”
The three puzzled over the situation, each staring at the warm coffee as if searching for some answer written in it. Thomas sighed. So much for peacefulness. He looked around the kitchen and as his eyes surveyed the contours of the molding around the cabinets he was further reminded of how dear this little, typically unexciting parish was to him. This little dose of excitement was already more than he was ever really hoping for.
The silence drifted around, all but palpable until the agents' walkie-talkies interrupted. “Agents Myers and Douglas, please respond. We have a third reported church vandalization.” Thomas glanced up at the two agents incredulously. “Third?”
“This is Agent Myers. What is it this time?”
The walkie-talkie phone emitted its signature beep. “Uh, according to the call we received, it's another door.”
Father Thomas let his head again rest in his hands. Someone is going around stealing church doors? This was going to be a long night.
Continuing from Part I.
It was so quiet that even the proverbial church mouse was not stirring around St. Francis of Assisi Chapel. Father Thomas, who had just plodded through the passageway that connected the church with the parsonage mused about the simple blessing of a warm passageway between his office and home. Though he had initially resented when the bishop had placed him in the little country parish, it did have its perks.
He gazed out the window of his home and looked down the hill where the moonlight danced on the water of small pond that the church owned. A smile crossed his face — it would only be a few months before parish children were once again playing in the pond, seeking a short respite from the heat. Life was good here.
His reflection caught his attention in the windowpane. His hair was almost entirely gray now, and the light silver rims of his glasses twinkled back at him. He sighed. He was growing old; he had originally intended much more exciting adventures for his life, but now he was known as the kindly, quiet cleric whose big secret was that he would sometimes sneak down to the pond to fish for a little while when he needed a break from the problems of the parish.
He shuffled over to his small kitchen and pulled an old coffee filter out of his Mr. Coffee. He opened open a small box that held filters and put a new one in, then took a few tablespoons of decaf coffee and placed it in the filter. A little coffee would be nice before heading to bed. Thomas then filled the coffee pot with water and started pouring it into the coffee maker. It was only then that he heard the peculiar sound coming from the chapel. It sounded like a chain saw.
Not usually a particularly brave man, the recollection of the simple enjoyment he received from the parish apparently had instilled a momentary protectiveness of his parish and he dashed over to the door that led to the passageway he had just passed through and unbolted the lock. The sound seemed to be coming from the front of the nave. He passed quickly from the apse and glanced down the aisles of pews. No, the sound was coming from the narthex. He rushed down the center aisle and pushed hard against the old, wooden doors that led to the entryway. The sound had ceased, and that's when he realized what it had been. As he stood in a stupor of a particularly confused form of shock, he heard the squeal of a car not far off. A cold breeze caused him to shiver. By the time he came back to his senses, the vehicle was long gone.
His hands trembled as he turned around and retraced his steps, trying to figure out precisely how he'd explain the situation to the police.
The Rev. Doug Matthews sat in his office chair intently studying the computer screen that glowed in front of him. Rose leaned in the door way and sighed. “You're not working on that again, are you, Pastor Doug?”
He nodded slowly and turned in his chair, which produced an uncomfortable squeak. “I'm only going to be here for a few more minutes. Go home — it's past five as it is.”
Rose studied him uncomfortably. “It's just, I don't like you staying here all hours of the night. If I leave before you finish, your liable to stay here late into the night. Come on, Doug,” she said, a little firmer than she had intended.
Doug smiled. “Just a few more minutes, really. You can go, I won't stay past 6:00. I promise.” Rose waved a hand at him and walked off to get her coat. She was a dedicated secretary, perhaps a bit overzealous about his bad habit of staying in the office late, but that was for his own good, he knew. He heard the main office door open and then shut. Good, now he could finish.
He turned back to the text he had brought up onto his screen. Something seemed different about this passage. He leaned closer, taking his glasses off to get a better view. His mind went blank for a moment, and then the realization struck him. This was it. There it was, right in front of him. He spun around in his chair so hard it nearly sent him onto the floor; he dashed up and grabbed his coat in one fluid motion. If he was right, this was it — after nearly fifteen years, he had found it. And not a moment too soon. He had to move quickly.
He raced out of his office into the reception area but stopped when he heard an odd sound. It sounded like someone was sawing something. The power went out, turning the room an eerie amberish color as the emergency lighting sprang into action. Doug's mind whirled as he realized what was going on. It all makes sense — I have to get out of here. Someone else was in the building — that much he was certain of — probably down by the main circuit breaker box in the basement, if the sawing noises had given any indication.
He raced for the door and ran out into the cold, rainy mid-winter night. As he ran to his car, he flipped open his cell phone and called the police. He had no time to waste, but leaving the church to the devices of whoever it was that had broken in was not prudent. He hastily reported the information on the intruder and slammed the phone shut to the protestations that he shouldn't leave. Time was short, and much as he might like to stay, it simply was not an option.
Doug Matthews sped off into the dark wet night with a sinking feeling. He just hoped he'd still be capable of having a sinking feeling in a few hours.