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The other side of religious zealotry


Ultra Orthodox Jew reading Torah

To the earth my ancestors
Offered the best or the first—
Hindquarter, sheaf of wheat, blood—
Respect for those spirits felt
In tree, stream, stone, mystery:
How and why sun and moon dance,
How creatures and crops follow
The seasons, where the dead go.
In my childhood, taught and blessed
By revelation dogma,
I gave thanks to that one god
I soon judged didn’t exist,
The bounty at our table
Not his to bestow, but ours—
The marvel of jump-stump ploughs,
The charge of superphosphates,
The chain gears in abattoirs—
Man’s inventions helping man.
This full moon night I open
A bottle of Welsh whisky,
Pour some on the rooted earth
Of our apple tree, listen
To the wind jostle the leaves
Of my thoughts. I have watched man
Land on the moon and track signs
For alpha and omega
In the folds of particles
And the spiral attractions
Of galaxies, flowers, shells.
Have heard reasons for murder
In common streets, holy sites,
The control of hierarchies.
Have felt the chaos designs
Of weather and human touch.
Though I can never be sure
Of anything, life itself
A mask out of mystery,
I have once or twice found grace
In meditation and out
Of the corner of an eye,
In forest, at sea-shore,
With lover or new-born,
A scintillation, a keen trace,
Unplucked string resonating
To a distant rare music,
One part ceremony, one part dance,
Presence that encourages
And deserves honour, some chance
For alliance—planet, self,
Winds that rattle, disappear.

Little Wattlebird
When I open the front door
He has arrived at last,
Swinging on the telephone wire
Above the pink Camellia bush.
After each May Day, whenever
Buds goose-bump its branches,
I await his appearance, gold-winged,
Advance scout for a family
Come to breed
Generation after generation,
This bush their nest barricade,
Their nectar restaurant.
And each day he broadcasts
Any one of nine sounds—
The soft throaty Yekkop yekkop,
That shnairt! of alarm,
Those squeaky trill-flourishes—
Here I am, Keep clear,
This is mine, The sun is shining—
Often rousing us to our day,
His and theirs already started:
Build a nest, feed a family,
Teach fledglings to trust feathers,
Perch on wire or branch, watching,
Till the nectar runs dry,
The weather changes tune,
The fledglings preen for mating—
Time come for nomads to criss-cross
Latitudes and longitudes,
Navigating by star, by magnetic field,
By tang of air and moisture,
Wingtips angling towards sunset,
Ancestral flight paths forever looping
Back to old haunts, new blossoms.
And a door somewhere creaks with welcome,
Generation to generation.
Scripture in the Round
Sacred, an exhibition at the British Library, September 2007
Somewhere outside, the addled cultures
of exclusivity clash, and clash again,
as have all zealots, all purgers
of scapegoats, all crusading armies,
to the same breathless end.
In here, Jew, Christian, Muslim,
the curious, the lapsed or distant,
circle these Abrahamic accounts,
variations on the one theme
of listening to the source
of all blessings.
We cannot touch the papyrus
unearthed from the rubbish tip
of ancient Oxyrhynchus, the gold
and vibrant ink letters and images
on vellum, the marriage contract,
the ceramic lamp, all transfigured
by the music of visionary tongues,
can only stand before each
Torah, Gospel, Qu’ran,
as if before an opening star,
and know them as incarnations
of that lush silence that inspires
believer and non-believer
to Truth, Beauty, Good,
which we carry outside,
the heart thrumming.

The Enterprise of Dust
By the time you read this
at least 50,000 cells
of your body will die.
And with each person met
we handshake cells,
mix and match electrons
that swarm about us...
Everyone on this planet,
everything, renders the other
through at most seven trades
of touch, every moment.
When we die, after
so many seven-year cycles
of new cells, new electrons,
same pivot of mind and memory,
the planet reclaims us,
with all those folded-in lives
of labourer and sage,
insect and blossom,
and our children’s children
will share and shed us,
until winds and magnetic currents
fling us into further orbits
of planets, stars, black holes.

Earl Livings

Earl Livings is a Melbourne writer of poetry and fiction who focuses on nature, mythology and the sacred and is currently working on a Dark Ages novel and his next poetry collection.

Ultra Orthodox Jew image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Earl Livings, Australian poetry, fundamentalism, religion, mythology



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Existing comments

I love that word 'shnairt!', which spellcheck just tried to change to 'shy airy'. That would be totally inappropriate.

Thanks for these, Earl.

Penelope | 05 April 2015  

"Somewhere outside, the addled cultures
of exclusivity clash, and clash again,"............
We have been slow to realise and accept that there are many paths up the Mountain that lead to God. We know that 'All that glitters is not gold'. But still have not yet accepted that each reflection of God is not the one and only path that may be followed. Such false thinking, emanating from inherited bonding to tribal and cultural traditions tend to result in Traditional Religions assuming the status of False gods, so that many followers perpetrate and perpetuate policies that violate and contradict the very fundamentals of their religious beliefs of what godliness is, and how it should be expressed.

Robert Liddy | 07 April 2015  

Lovely thought provoking poetry thanks Earl

Jean S-D | 07 April 2015  

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