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Joseph Bottum is the former editor of First Things.

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The Fall

From the October 1998 Print Edition

I. September New England comes to flower dying. Leaves like new-blown blossoms trail in fluttered rage from tainted trees. The year grows willful. Stagnant ponds strain to clamber quarry walls. Time slips indenture, backing age on fuddled age, confusing fall with summer-snow with hawthorn flurries, . . . . Continue Reading »


From the December 1997 Print Edition

On the giant’s hill, in the child’s eye, the old house stands hermaphrodite, the mother-father rolled in light. In brazen day, that Zion’s done: a trumpet cry to still the sun. Beware, my love, beware, beware, the sky’s on fire and the air is singed along its western rim. Desire for day at . . . . Continue Reading »

Melville in Manhattan

From the October 1997 Print Edition

It should have been easy for Herman Melville to hate Manhattan—the “Babylonish brick-kilns of New York,” as he wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1851. It was there in Manhattan he was born in 1819, at 6 Pearl Street, down by the Battery, while his ambitious, hard-driven father busily bankrupted . . . . Continue Reading »


From the August/September 1997 Print Edition

I should have deadened the street with straw, I should have stopped the bedroom clock and stilled the doorbell chimes with crepe, I should have brought him quinine bark, exotic simples packed in teak, I should have had Te Deums sung with banks of candles, cloistered nuns to say their beads before he . . . . Continue Reading »

Timor Mortis

From the August/September 1997 Print Edition

Death is the night watch The waiter, the wanter Death is the break The wake of the sleeping death is the waker, the watcher of sleep. death is the breaker, the waking of sleep. Down in the hole Down in the hole The frost on his fingers The blood of the sparrows the creaker is turning. he starts up . . . . Continue Reading »

Black Scrawl

From the June/July 1997 Print Edition

The crimson lake that laps her cheek, her scarlet kiss, her madder hair once singed the virgin martyr page but taper down at last to this: Red language, words incarnadine; black scrawl in sifted ash. When I have fears that I may cease to speak before my sullen sun and garner dark at length in day, . . . . Continue Reading »

Fiat Rex

From the June/July 1997 Print Edition

There being neither bangled dancers swirling cloth-of-gold and green nor golden peacocks set in trees above the marble garden ponds, we are assured we are no king. O, but were I king I would command my flautists out upon the porch and golden bowls of tamarinds and pomegranate seeds in ice set down . . . . Continue Reading »