Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

A Poem by Scott Cairns

Friday, August 6th, 2021

A poem for the Feast of the Transfiguration

As We See

“The transfiguration of our Lord, that is the radiance
in which he was bathed at the pinnacle of Mount Tabor
did not manifest a change in him, but a change
in those who saw him.”
-Isaac the Least

Suppose the Holy One Whose Face We Seek
is not so much invisible as we
are ill-equipped to apprehend His grave
proximity. Suppose our fixed attention
serves mostly to make evident the gap
dividing what is seen and what is here.

The Book there on the stand proves arduous
to open, entombed as it is in layers
of accretion, layers of gloss applied
to varied purposes, hardly any of them
laudable, so many, guarded ploys
to keep the terms quite still, predictable.

Which is why I’m drawn to — why I love — the way
the rabbis teach. I love the way they read —
opening The Book with reverence for what
they’ve found before, joy for what lies waiting.
I love the Word’s ability to rise again
from chronic homiletic burial.

Say the One is not so hidden as we
are kept by our own conjuncture blinking,
puzzled, leaning in without result. Let’s say
the meek, the poor, the merciful all
suspect his hand despite the evidence.
as for those rarest folk, the pure in heart?
Intent on what they touch, they see Him now.

-Scott Cairns

Hear the poem read by the author here.

Science, Poetry, and the Imagination Online

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

Join me Wednesdays in March for the Inaugural L’Engle Seminars featuring poets, scientists, and mathematicians from both sides of the Atlantic. Details and registration here.

A Sensible Emptiness

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Below is the late Richard Wilbur’s metaphorical exploration of one sentence of Thomas Traherne’s: “”Life without objects is a sensible emptiness, and that is a greater misery than death or nothing.” (Second Century, Meditation 65) The little we know of Traherne’s life reveals a man of fascinating contradictions: a kind and self-effacing mystical poet full of childlike wonder at creation, whose only work published in his lifetime was a prose polemic rife with conspiracy theories and dripping with white-hot rage at everything and everyone Catholic. Largely unknown to or ignored by scholars until the twentieth century, much of Traherne’s work remains unpublished. In this poem, Richard Wilbur captures the felicitous spirit of Traherne’s verse, described by one critic as “bafflingly simple.”

A World Without Objects is a Sensible Emptiness

The tall camels of the spirit
Steer for their deserts, passing the last groves loud
With the sawmill shrill of the locust, to the whole honey of the arid
Sun. They are slow, proud,


A Poem by Malcolm Guite

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017


My friend (and master of the sonnet form), Malcolm Guite, published the collection in which this poem appears in 2012. Inhospitality to strangers is nothing new. It may help to remember that “xenos,” the Greek word from which English derives “xenophobia,” and “hospes,” the Latin word from which it derives “hospitality,””hospital, and “hospitable,” can mean, in their respective languages, “stranger,””guest,” and “host.” They derive, in turn, from the Indo-European root, “ghos-ti,” “someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality.” Whether the United States welcomes strangers or not is a matter of policy that has varied wildly over its history. Jews and Christians (and Muslims, though I speak of Islam with far less knowledge) have a religious duty to welcome the stranger. I am frequently reminded by others that “religious”” reasoning has no place in “secular” decision-making. Given the currently accepted constructs of “the religious” and “the secular,” that’s likely to be true. Reinhold Niebuhr, Barack Obama’s “favorite philosopher” and “favorite theologian,” came to see society as so tainted with sin that the nation-state could not and should not live by Christian ethics. Again, that may very well be true. Christians, however, must reckon with Matthew 5 through 7 and Matthew 25:31-46. “Xenophobia,” it turns out, is not so much fear of the stranger as it is fear of being the host. I trust we shall be judged accordingly.

Christ the King

Mathew 25: 31-46

Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.

A Poem for Advent

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014




Listen to the poem here.




For my Mother at Advent

I shall teach my children as you taught me:
through patient example, gentle conduct,
and shared symbols, gravid with mystery
and grace. I recall how in Advents of
my youth, you taught us to make small mangers,
simply fashioned of paper and cardboard,
and to lay within them, each night at prayer,
a single piece of straw for every act
of kindness we had given Christ that day,
“So that,” you said, “He might have one soft place
in this harsh world on which to lay his head.”

Such memories illuminate my way
even now, although the time when others
attended to my happiness is gone.
Yet only now I understand the gift
you gave us in such homely traditions,
for when I come to rest at night, having
kissed the foreheads of my sleeping children,
I lay down not only on this, my bed,
but on a great cushion of softest straw
which, through acts of kindness more numerous
than I can recall, you have made for me.

One More Before National Poetry Month Ends

Saturday, April 26th, 2014



A Poem for April

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Having Crossed the Sea Image

Having Crossed the Sea
(Exodus 15)

I have seen them, dead along the shore,
their bloated faces still ripe with hate.
And there was one I stopped at to kick—
kick him fiercely and hard in the face
the way they kicked my now dead husband
who wept at making bricks without straw—
but I found no joy in what I did.

Yesterday, we had cause to rejoice,
seeing Israel’s enemies crushed
between walls of leveling water
cast on them by our great God’s right hand.
But as we sang praises to heaven
in sight of their still floating corpses,
the cloud column swelled, grew darker, and
the rain fell: softly at first, and then
in great salt drops, so like tears, I wept
to learn one might mourn enemy dead
who were, after all, God’s children, too.

From Flesh Becomes Word, illustration by John Volck

A Poem for March

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Listen to a reading of this poem here

Sorrel Soup

Snip two handsful
of spring-burst acid leaves,
sorrow-weary hearts
green as mossy headstones.
Slice them thin as
battered hope.
Confetti these ribbons
in simmering water
not so salty as tears,
where earthy vegetables –
softened to the tooth –
and herbs at hand
await the sudden flush
of green.

Salt and pepper to taste.
Savor, not heat,
warms the snow-
stiff body here:
sour-apple acid at
winter’s wake
brimming hungry
flesh with unlooked-for
stillness, as in
great loss
recalled from safety.

Sourness, so tendered
in early spring,
awakens dreams,
we’re told,
to warm sap-
raising nights
with harvest scents,
while seeds sleep on,
blind worms till
the darkness,
and autumn-graved bulbs
silently unfurl.

A Poem for January

Friday, January 10th, 2014


Listen to this poem here

In Winter

January’s sun is
snared, bled of color,
in black hackberry
branches, alive
with robin wings.

In summer
so solitary,
they now flock
to feast on
raisined fruits,

darker than their
rust-red bellies
or the lean fox
the pasture’s edge.



From Flesh Becomes Word, published by Dos Madres Press, 2013

Poems by Brian Volck and illustrated by John Volck

See my brother’s work at

Kenosis and Liberation

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

For Pesach and Holy Week, an older poem of mine, engaging the great festivals in a slantwise way:

Francis and the Leper
(for Richard Rohr)

They both stank (it was not
a time obsessed with odorlessness).
Doubtless both were frightened:
the God-besotted penitent

embracing what he most loathed,
his rotting confessor shrinking
from unaccustomed intimacy,
which could only bring new shame.

Afterward, the leper vanished,
his role over, the news delivered.
I, though, still see him incarnately
embraced, midwife to a saint’s

liberation. So, my body tells me,
Francis sees, too; the first wounds
of crucifixion invisibly gracing him
in that awkward kiss. I wonder,

did the merchant’s son,
drawing back at last, gaze
astonished at the fading shimmer
where his parting lips had pressed

beneath those startled, milky eyes
and honey-crusted sores?
Was it there he discovered
an escape from long captivity,

scanned the unfurling
wilderness of his wandering,
and glimpsed, as from a mountain,
the perilous land of promise?