St Augustine's parable of the deer

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Selected poems

 

Saint Augustine preaching on Psalm 42

The rock-star Bishop preaching to the stadium 
— thirty-five thousand leaning in for the Word —

drew attention to the deer
heart thumping from the hunt.

Picture the red Barbary stag, the north African deer,
the dearest picture of love.

'Another thing you should note about the deer,' 
Augustine gestures to the crowd,

'They cross a stream in single file; 
One deer lays its head on the back of its forerunner, 
and the leader changes place often.

'In these ways they carry one another's load, 
and show us how to bear 
burdens of our sisters and brothers.

'In this way is fulfilled the law of Jesus Christ.'

The bishop having now pursued the Word, 
the stadium resounds with the splash of feet
through a stream.

— Ted Witham

 

 

 

Guardian priest

[Dedicated to the late Father John Wardman]

Darkness blacks my sight, blinds me:

My mind must prefigure the form of an altar,

A glimmer beyond this invisible table is made only

of light insubstantial, a guess at a human shape.

 

[For every human being has their creation

From parts invisible; of dropsies in profusion,

A miracle of essential molecules and shining microbes,

Who come to light only in formation.]

 

This human-shape comes into focus,

Moves with practised grace behind the altar.

Kindly hands summon Blood and Mass.

Dawn comes. Light drives away the dark.

 

The priest of light sparks and departs.

— Ted Witham

 

 

 

The doubter

Here you are with me again

my shadow companion

my iron clad lover I can't undress.

I've been seducing you for years,

but even with the cleverest words

and the most desperate charm,

you're always cold and unreachable.

You back away when I come near.

When I turn to leave you follow

wrapped in a thick cloud —

a mystery within a mystery.

 

How can I love you?

There's no communication here.

Sometimes I see your lips trembling,

but what's the message quivering in your granite throat?

'I love you? I need you? I'm sorry? It's over ... '

I can't tell.

Your face is a finished sculpture.

Your eyes are staring stones.

 

I've married a woman I didn't want

but have courted all my life.

I've wooed you with wildflowers.

I've whispered honeyed words

while my fingers shouted passion on your skin.

But how long can I wait for a smile?

And how long can you stare without seeing me?

If I put my ear to your chest what would I hear?

The wind hissing in a broken shell?

The sputtering of an old pump?

 

What will end this bloodless marriage?

Desertion, death, an affair?

No, I'll tell you.

Someday when you least expect

I'll turn around in mock rage

and cast off this heavy despair

with a jeering laugh.

Then I'll enter your cloud

take your steely limbs in mine

and let my tears rust away your fear.

And I won't let you go,

until you say, 'I love you.'

— Eric D. Nelson

 

 

 

The merchant's song 

To reach out my hands would not be so hard

if hands could be made of gold.

If shine and weight are everything in this world

I would turn these shallow platters into bowls

finish and fire them until they glowed

fill them with fine wine and perfume

and set them out in front of me

to intoxicate the evening air.

 

Merchants would arrive

and we would talk about exotic lands,

the price of passage from Bangladesh to Jerusalem,

potters, goldsmiths and winemakers we knew

testing our cunning in purchase and trade.

 

And Wise Men would come from the East seeking the Star

and we would talk about the day Adam woke

with his side wounded,

the woman green and fragrant

as the sun rose behind her,

her hand finding his hand

as angels shook dawn light from their wings.

 

And yet this I know:

 

The merchants would crowd around me — with coins in their eyes —

And the Wise Men would mount their camels and wave farewell,

schlepping weighty gifts to Bethlehem,

And I would mumble this prayer:

If I could turn my palms to gold — for You to buy — I would.

If I could cup my empty hands — for You to fill — I would.

 

— Eric D. Nelson

Topic tags: Poetry, Ted Witham, Eric D. Nelson, Saint Augustine

 

 

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Existing comments

Even with a (sort of) gammy foot I would do cartwheels if I could write poetry like this!
Pam | 29 April 2019


What a blessing, to open my email, find this page, be fed by beauty and have something to look forward to later. Thank you, Ted and Eric.
Joan Seymour | 01 May 2019


Masterful evocations of truth and beauty. Ted and Eric. Thank you.
John RD | 11 June 2019


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