Nine Bells



God in His mercy gave
the heavens as a clock
to sailors he would save.Driven by wind and wave,
I steer for Peter’s rock
and moor within his nave,

seeking the faith to brave
my first mate in a smock
and sawbones looking grave. Timothy Murphy
Signs and Portents, Read from the Margin



“The family will receive friends at home this
evening from 7 to 9,” Oglethorpe Echo


Wading hip-deep in the snarl and sputter of my mower-
The torn grass behind me limp in its green blood-
I glance across at the familiar house.

Still now, though unsettled family dogs bark alarm from the back yard,
Protesting my intrusion mid-week and days from any sensible Sunday.
I tidy my lawn for the pending occasion, a neighborly gesture.A local curious car slows, its driver craning,
Awed by the front porch light shining mid-morning.
The white wreath seems a sudden blossom,
Or perhaps a hollow sun ablaze on the closed front door, a warning.
A certainty of sign more current and personal
Than CNN blaring Balkan eruptions.At the back door a strange kinsman shakes
The old mop over the porch rail,
Scolding the dogs into silence in a cadence with the flailing,
A ritual erasing the past, though the enduring sun
Catches a sparkle of the settling dust.

By first dusk there will be the children’s voices:
Through the house, out into the secret corners of an unfamiliar yard.
Or indulged to catch random fireflies in dangerous glass jars from the kitchen.
That sly courting under glass will be sensed,
But not yet understood.

The old house, in full light now,
A shuffle of feet stutters apology for the mystery of darkness,
With the children at play in not quite innocent blood.
A strange kinsman leans over the porch rail,
Cautions to silence with impatient words drifting the gathering dark.

Old memories recovered, old portents in ambiguous signs,
Where my spewn grass writhes into brown innocence,
Lies indifferent to fireflies or the sounds of brash children,
Refutation of the ambiguous and thickening darkness.

Marion Montgomery


I Went In, I Knew Not Where


I went in, I knew not where
and stayed, not knowing, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.

I knew not the place around me,
how I came there or where from,
but seeing where then I found me,

I sensed great things, and grew dumb-
since no words for them would come-
lacking all knowledge, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.

Of piety and of peace
I had perfect comprehension;
solitude without surcease
showed the straight way, whose intention-
too secret for me to mention-
left me stammering, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.

So wholly rapt, so astonished
was I, from myself divided,
that my very senses vanished
and left me there unprovided
with knowledge, my spirit guided
by learning unlearned, and going
past the boundaries of knowing.

He who reaches that place truly
wills himself from self to perish;
all he lately knew, seen newly,
seems trifles unfit to cherish;
his new knowledge grows to flourish
so that he lingers there, going
past the boundaries of knowing.

The higher up one is lifted,
the less one perceives by sight
how the darkest cloud has drifted
to elucidate the night;

He who knows the dark aright
endures forever, by going
past the boundaries of knowing.This wisdom, wise by unknowing,
wields a power so complete
that the learn?d wise men throwing
wisdom against it compete
with a force none can defeat,
since their wisdom makes no showing
past the boundaries of knowing.There is virtue so commanding
in this high knowledge that wit,
human skill and understanding
cannot hope to rival it
in one who knows how to pit
against self his selfless going
past the boundaries of knowing.

And if you should care to learn
what this mode of being wise is,
it is yearnings that discern
the Divine in all its guises,
whose merciful gift and prize is
to confound all knowledge, going
past the boundaries of knowing.

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591),
translated by Rhina P. Espaillat


Coplas: In Pursuit

In pursuit of amatory
adventure, hope bid me fly
and I rose so high, so hig
that I closed upon the quarry.To achieve so great a height,
divine adventure pursuing,
I flew so far that the doing
lifted me clear beyond sight.

A flight so extraordinary
rendered me too faint to fly:
It was love drew me so high
that I closed upon the quarry.

As I rose up high and higher-
my divine prey still uncaught-
weary and heartsick, I thought,
fallen from my one desire,

“All such attempts must miscarry.”
So cast down by this was I
that I rose up high, up high,
until I closed on the quarry.

Somehow I contrived to go
a thousandfold by once reaching:
heaven grants to the beseeching
what they earn through hope. For no
prize but this prey would I tarry,
and hope raised me by and by,
until I was high, so high
that I closed upon the quarry. St. John of the Cross (1542-1591),
translated by Rhina P. Espaillat