Half-baked takes on the glory of God


Peals of light

for the parishioners of St Augustine Roman Catholic Church
in Brooklyn, NY and Dalienne Majors, especially, who inspired this.

... Saturnalibus, optimo dierum ...
–Valerius Gaius Catullus

I heard the bells on Christmas day
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For as long as we have feared
darkness and frigidity, spires
we erect have nosed upwards
we have stretched to reach to touch
the celestial concert of bodies,
ambulant and fixed, whether
arrayed in borrowed light
or radiating with interior fire.
galaxies dispense the luxury
that light is, borne
on waves as it traverses
space and time that we might be
carried away with ourselves,
our senses all fullness, as we behold
and are moved to return
the favor, courtesy of
the choreography
of fingers on strings, we,
in our colossal ingenuity attach
to sound frameworks of our own
design, as with lips and
larynxes animated by muscle
and soul, we unleash
song all in the service of desire
gifts, reciprocal. We emulate
with half-lame gestures, insufficient
and diffuse, dissolving into
air like smoke
ascending from a goat
on an altar —
as if God were open
to flattery for we know
it's the thought that counts
out the measure, that calls
the tune, the pig-headed divine
within us as we hammer away
like clappers in crowns,
attempting scaled-down versions
of whatever meager quotient of
splendor we might
manage to render out of
love like that
which moved the God of Genesis
to cure his own loneliness.
On the fifth day of Christmas
my true love gave to me:
five golden rings of
truth, five haloes,
the five books of the Torah,
the five feet of the iambs of
bards, the five fingers of
the hand, five short-falling
senses by means of which we
exude, execute ornate
strategies and half-baked takes
on the glory of God — our own
walloping renditions of angels and saints;
whether drafted in ramous pains-
taking reticules of lead and vitrified
emeralds, ambers and burgundies,
or coaxed out of marble,
even the greatest of our puny
efforts do deliver
us out of our skins, move us
from our self-assigned spots.
The bones of our imperfect
artistry glow and a wondrous
argument rumbles within,
which comes to us on waves,
arriving like sound or light. How
proud are we of our ornery
Buonarroti, for example,
working day and night,
tethered like Sisyphus
to scaffolding he erected,
his arthritic piety
a functional machine
strapped to him to him like
a pair of iron wings, and he,
stuck in a dead heat:
longshot in a contest
between him and his better self.
In the end, neither won,
neither captured the perfect
likeness in perfect light.
But we prevailed or were
triumphant, and I like to think
God won too, that
when God looked
upon those completed works,
whether wrestled out of rock
or left in a lavish sprawl
across the broad vaulted
cappella that doubled
as a canvas, that God took
it all in, and sighed and knew
the kind of joy a gift
drafted by the hand of
a child evokes on Christmas
morning which contains a multitude
of sins which are not only forgiven
but which magical flaws
are exalted or go unseen.
in extraordinary light.
On the sixth day of Christmas
my true love gave to me,
six water birds engaged in fruition,
their meat full of knowledge
that warmth itself is a miracle.
On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me,
seven swans a-treading water;
genus coscoroba, divine vehicles of
Saraswati, pristine and ferocious,
they devour pearls and mate for life;
and the seven wonders of the world,
the seven forgotten wonders,
the seven natural wonders:
the seven continents, conceived in
love: God's ornament: the cosmos,
in chromaesthetic strains, green
and thrumming: the buttery wash of
the sun in lavender light,
the milky spill of an early moon
its shattered glow, satiny, silver
upon the seven seas,
the loveliness of the human body,
the imagination luscious,
the lilac vapors of the heavens,
night divided from day,
the lyre and the soprano,
the glory of the Jews
unbound by the spontaneous
combustion of a voice coming
from a bush; the seven paths
through which comes
grace —
On the third day of Christmas
my true love gave to me
trois poulets francaises,
seasoned to perfection:
faith, hope and love —
you can sink
your teeth into
for the trip across the tundra
the heart becomes when it elects
to shut down.
On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love gave to me,
eighty pulsating digits
contracting and relaxing,
engorgement and emptying,
their rhythmic cadences
finishing with a squishing
plash, the principle of supply and demand
alive in the flesh of the sacred
cow. On the fourth day of
Christmas my true love gave
to me, four calling songbirds:
Mark, Luke, Matthew and
John's poem of the word
unfurled a world
born of a syllable,
borne on breath,
flesh made airborne —
On the ninth day of Christmas
my true love presented me
with ninety toes in flight
(How lovely their feet in slippers.)
On the tenth day,
a decade of lords taking leaps
of faith. My true love bestowed
the eleventh day of Christmas
eleven bagpipes
voluptuous as sails
crammed full of anima,
God's oceanic breath
salted with ecstatic tears —
On the twelfth night
of Christmas my true love gave to me
twelve drummers drumming,
apostolic transmission,
a blessing for my plough,
a bean within a cake,
mummers on parade,
Molly dancers run amok,
low tungsten skies luminous with lace,
a velvety darkness fire eats,
the luster of fire-lit flesh
refulgent, a hearth well-stoked
kindled by hope, the rings of
Saturn, its things: Saturnalibus,
optimo dierum, glistening days,
nights coursing with music,
straw men and the god of the grape,
cinnamon, cardamom and clove,
blue fire, white hot heat,
a full-bodied future
with a raspberry nose,
vision and stars of wonder,
a fulminating flame
which pirates the chill in us —
which spirits us away —
the cold, the pendulous
commotion our free-
standing campanilli provide,
carillon music
quickening in towers
courtesy of fists and feet,
combination pistons,
and pedal and swell,
wind chests and reversible
toe studs; 20 ton bourdon bells,
and Angelus strains
that wind through neighborhoods:
the resounding yield
the holy motion
of waisted steel delivers;
the strains of crowns
affixed with pivoted clappers
which dispatch arithmetic
fluctuating warbles and bright tones
and saturate the air with partials,
tierce and quint, sending concentric,
man-made wobbling forth
to issue peals with tails that trail
off in spectral pitches, full
of the energy of
radiating sound which is
the square of its amplitude
as tolls in bells
by which we mark
morning, noon and night,
marriage and death,
and feasts, like Christmas —
with terrific splashes
of bells and well-rounded
rings of truth
by which we chase
our dark away — 

Michele Madigan SomervilleMichele Madigan Somerville is the author of two books, a book-length poem, WISEGAL, and Black Irish (a collection of poems). Her work has been published in several literary journals, and she has won a few awards for poetry. She was an educator for 14 years. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and is active in the New York City poetry scene.

Topic tags: Peals of Light, a poem by Michele Madigan Somerville, St Augustine Roman Catholic Church, brooklyn



submit a comment

Existing comments

A beautiful and inspiring poem at this time of year. It takes one back to the true meaning of Christmas. Thank you Michelle. I'll be looking out for your work.
Jenny Edwards | 15 December 2009

A work of profound beauty and muscle. Interesting to listen as Grace enters the seven paths ... a lovely poem.
Rory | 17 December 2009

Your way of phrasing things is fluid and existential.I love to hear your voice in your words. You inspire me to seek writing as a vocation, also. Most of my writing is journalistic stuff about Yonkers (of all places!). My first love was poetry. I wrote a lot of poems when my mother was dying of cancer. I also had to come to terms of sexual abuse at the hands of a thirteen-year-old babysitter (I was four at the time). I see poetry as therapy and gives me a love of the written language which is a healing art of a panacea.

Don't forget to send me an e-mail next time you give a reading. You can send me an invitation at 86 Convent Place, Apt. A-10, Yonkers, New York 10703. You can even call me at (914) 207-7378.

I love your stuff!

Jennifer Green
Jennifer Green | 24 December 2013


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up