Mark Doty: “At the Gym”

This salt-stain spot
marks the place where men
lay down their heads,
back to the bench,

and hoist nothing
that need be lifted
but some burden they’ve chosen
this time: more reps,

more weight, the upward shove
of it leaving, collectively,
this sign of where we’ve been:
shroud-stain, negative

flashed onto the vinyl
where we push something
unyielding skyward,
gaining some power

at least over flesh,
which goads with desire,
and terrifies with frailty.
Who could say who’s

added his heat to the nimbus
of our intent, here where
we make ourselves:
something difficult

lifted, pressed or curled,
Power over beauty,
power over power!
Though there’s something more

tender, beneath our vanity,
our will to become objects
of desire: we sweat the mark
of our presence onto the cloth.

Here is some halo
the living made together.

Read more poems and essays by prizewinning author Mark Doty on the Academy of American Poets website.

Book Notes: Get the Rollax Replicas You Watned, Vermin

The uniquely contemporary art form known as “spam poetry” — amusing, occasionally creepy “found poems” assembled from phrases in junk emails — has spawned numerous fan sites such as the Spam Poetry Institute,, and the Anthology of Spam Poetry (notable for the fake bios of the poems’ “authors”). I find this art form so fascinating because it captures the absurdity of the competing messages hurled at us by mass communication, a random data stream of tragedies and trivia in which all information has equal (and therefore no) significance.

As someone who has tried in vain to appreciate some of today’s more experimental poets, I also appreciate the questions spam poetry raises about language and meaning. Can a poem be enjoyable even if it has no “meaning”, no narrative thread or logical connection leading from one phrase to another? If so, what characteristics distinguish interesting nonsense from inanity? Good spam poetry, I think, does more than joke about Viagra; it teases us with the ghost of meaning, triggering our minds’ compulsion to “make sense” of any string of words we encounter.

So I was excited to discover an entire chapbook of spam poetry, E.V. Noechel’s Get the Rollax Replicas You Watned, Vermin: Poems, Directly Marketed (Assume Nothing Press, 2007). A quick and entertaining read, these poems also have a sinister tone, like secret communications overheard by the wrong person, or dream conversations that seem terribly important yet impossible to retain. Perhaps spam poetry taps into the paranoia of the Internet age, where information is plentiful yet unreliable, and our privacy can be violated without us ever knowing.

Below, samples from the chapbook:

Drugs Advised for Rape Victims

I decide to tender you, perfectly fresh.
What would happen
To your family if you died?
Please don’t think it’s an easy question, wastrel.
Nude angelfish, buttercup, Libya,
Breathtaking image: no place like home.
No place like home.

Soap and water, best germ-fighters.
Should the Government be Involved?
Woven ketosis, Polaroid convoy
The squeaking wheel doesn’t always get
The grease. Sometimes it gets replaced.
My friend, you are in trouble. You
Have nothing to lose.

I think this will intrigue you, mournful
I hope you are doing okay. Are you hurting?
I’ve been depressed with my magnitude
Lately. What and you.

        first published in Blotter magazine


Don’t Forget Your Superman Pill

Major Loophole,
Do you want your dick to be wallpaper for a computer?
Surely you only dream of it, delight in
Wartime sorbet
Charisma, violent
Pop quiz hardship,
Orchard grass
bamboozle, good-tempered

My oh my,
Anastigmatic, I’m
Feeling thin,
Vomit news.

It’s heroic to be mammoth,
As clean as beef?

Increase your testosterone
with this new Caucasian.
Why didn’t you

Those college chicks don’t know anything.
(Tiger in Sanskrit)

You have a pretty house,
Sleep soundly and awake rested.


Visit Noechel’s website at . Read her Honorable Mention poem from the 2006 Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest sponsored by Winning Writers here; Jim Neill’s second-prize poem is another fine example of spam poetry.

Ding, Dong, [Your Name Here] Is Dead

From the Springwise retail trends newsletter comes our latest Sign of the Apocalypse: Requiem for You, an Austrian company that will compose your personal requiem on demand, to the tune of 20,000 Euros and up:

Just launched last year, Requiem for You offers services on three levels, the most basic of which is the composition of an individually tailored requiem. The firm represents a network of composers, librettists and musicians who will write an individual requiem in advance, capturing the client’s unique personality and accommodating preferences for balance among vocal, instrumental and textual components. Styles available include baroque, classical, romantic, jazz or Broadway musical, with text in German, Latin or English. A personal laudatio is also available.

In addition to composing the piece, Requiem for You can also produce an audio recording of it using a team of freelance artists, orchestras and recording studios, once again honouring the client’s personal tastes in the CD’s cover art. Finally, upon request the company can arrange a performance of the requiem, using anything from an audio presentation of the recorded version to a live performance with orchestra and choir. Prices reportedly range from EUR 20,000 for the requiem’s composition to EUR 400,000 for the all-out live performance.

As vanity projects go, it’s more space-efficient than building gold statues of yourself, but for that price tag, I’d want a wider range of musical choices. Death metal? Hip-hop? For sheer memorability, there’s nothing like a nursery rhyme. Personally, when it’s my time to go, I hope my heirs hire Weird Al.

MassEquality Unveils “Equality Agenda”

If you’ve ever heard right-wing commentators denouncing the “gay agenda” and wondered “What’s that? Why didn’t I get the memo?”, worry no more. MassEquality, the grass-roots activist group that helped secure equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians in Massachusetts, has just announced its “Equality Agenda“. These policy initiatives represent the next steps toward full equality for people of every sexual orientation and gender identity.

Proposals include: Add gender identity and gender expression as protected categories under the state’s nondiscrimination laws. Increase funding for “safe schools” (anti-bullying) programs. Pass the MassHealth Equality Bill, which would give married same-sex couples the same Medicaid benefits as straight married couples. Increase funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, and for domestic-violence prevention services that address the special needs of GLBT couples.

In a separate initiative, MassEquality will be partnering with Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) to organize for equal marriage rights in Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire.

If you think this is a good idea, click here. If you think the end of the world is at hand, click here.

Kirk Lee Davis: “Jubilee at the Liberation of the Senses”

Lookout Donkey—It’s a shining corporeal supernova!
Mr. And Mrs. Political have got it together again!

Je suis en retard, Mr. Circumflex?
Let the poppy seeds eat their spongeycake!

The Luftwaffe is happy to see me!
Dance the whiteboy!

Okay now, everybody: barrel-roll those hips?
Simon says pin the quail on the pattycake man!

And helloooooo, Misti Applepants!
The Lord is willing and the flesh is Yahoo!

All free! All free!
What robot abdicator could forego?

Get up, Chipdog! Lock the backdoor!
The giant teeth! The torture wagons!

The fun is here to stay.

Reprinted by permission from DIAGRAM, Issue 7.6

Open-Mindedness, Exclusion, and Religious Commitment

Open-mindedness, like tolerance, is a paradoxical virtue for liberal-modernist thinkers. Using science as their ideal, they argue that the search for truth requires continual openness to revising your views, which is incompatible with a settled religious commitment to any particular doctrine. Of course, as Micah Tillman points out in a recent Relevant Magazine article, this way of thinking isn’t really “open-minded” toward religion. He notes that our culture’s main alternative is post-modernism, which touts dialogue among people with different belief systems, but doesn’t see this dialogue ever resolving itself into a consensus on the truth. Tillman, who teaches philosophy at the Catholic University of America, suggests a third option:

As a teacher of philosophy and a thinking Christian, I have struggled with the choice between modernism and post-modernism. Instead of finally choosing one or the other, however, I live with a philosophy in between. On the open-mindedness question, I find it to be superior to both.

This middle philosophy is called phenomenology. To be open-minded, it claims, is to believe that the more angles from which you see something, the better you will understand it. It does not assume, however, that you can see a thing equally well from each angle. Some views are clearer and fuller than others.

From studying phenomenology, I learned that even incomplete or distorting ways of seeing a thing may tell us something about it. If a thing tastes sweet to one person, and sour to another, we know at least that it is probably some kind of food.

True open-mindedness, I discovered, is neither passive nor anti-Christian. It is the practice of getting outside your head—so as to get inside the heads of others, so as to understand the world better. And for the Christian it means trying to have the mind of Christ. After all, He has the clearest, fullest view of all.

In my experience, when people bristle at the idea that all worldviews are not created equal, it’s usually because they’re afraid this means all people are not equal. This problem is partly the fault of Christians who have behaved pridefully about their faith, as if they alone had picked the correct answer on an exam. Catholic theologian James Alison here shares some thoughts about how we can proclaim the uniqueness of Christianity without bragging about the specialness of Christians (emphasis mine):

I’ve proposed a way of drawing close to a real, dense, presence, which brings along with it real human associations, and which is, in as far as it is possible for us to speak like this, the way in which the Triune God manifests in our midst. This seems to me to be something absolutely unique. That is to say, this network of associations through which God has projected his self-manifestation in our midst, exercising his strong protagonism in this weak presence, giving himself to be known by means of a completely new criterion, has no parallel, that I know or have ever heard of, in any other part of human knowledge, culture, philosophy or narrative.

The first question which this raises for me is as follows: How should we speak about this quality of absolute “uniqueness” without that uniqueness being a form, however well-disguised, of human “exclusivism”? And my first intuition about this, and it is no more than that, is that we have to stop being concerned about being considered exclusivist, as if that which is unique were in some way our property. Instead we have to refine our understanding of the protagonism of that which is unique and rediscover our relationality with others as part of what is received from and through that unique protagonism.

To grasp the full significance of this passage, one needs to read the whole essay, “Strong Protagonism and Weak Presence: The Changes in Tone of The Voice of God”, which is somewhat technical but worth the effort. Alison’s main idea, in this as in all his other writings, is that God’s identification with the sacrificial victim in Jesus totally relativizes all the hierarchies and exclusions that we generate from the fact of differences between human beings. Our relative merits are negligible compared to the gap in righteousness between us and God, whose forgiveness offers us the only kind of self-worth that does not depend on comparing ourselves to others.

Book Notes: Letters to a Skeptic

Letters to a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity is a solid little book of Christian apologetics by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd, an evangelical theologian, and his father, Edward K. Boyd. It reproduces their correspondence over a three-year period, during which the elder Boyd asked his son nearly all of the basic questions that potential believers face (e.g., why would a good God permit suffering? how do I know the Bible is true? how can Jesus’ death atone for anyone’s sins?). At the end of the process, his father became a Christian.

Though lacking some of the personality of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, still the gold standard for popular apologetics in my opinion, Letters to a Skeptic covers an enormous amount of ground in less than 200 pages, and its conversational tone makes it a quick read. I would definitely give this book to anyone who is interested in following Christ but stymied by intellectual objections.

The Boyds’ dialogue starts with questions about God, particularly the problem of evil, then moves on to reasons for believing the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and significance, explores the issue of Biblical authority, and ends with a discussion of Christian moral ideals and how grace works to transform the believer throughout his life. I particularly liked Dr. Boyd’s statement that he trusts the Bible because he first trusted Jesus, and not the other way around. His relationship with Christ led him to take seriously the Scriptures that Jesus found authoritative. This is in contrast to some Christian writers I have known, who emphasize submission to Biblical authority so early in the discussion that one would think the Bible was the standard against which the reality of God should be measured, and not vice versa. The Bible is not the fourth person of the Trinity.

Dr. Boyd has reportedly caught some flack in evangelical circles for advocating “open theism,” the view that God chooses to leave some aspects of the future undetermined, so that humans can have free will and be partners in His creative activity. This does not undermine God’s sovereignty, he contends, because God could have chosen to predestine and foresee all earthly events, but instead freely chose to limit Himself for our benefit. I find this view convincing, and in line with Scripture (which often depicts God expressing surprise at our misbehavior!), as well as our simple moral intuition that a micromanaging God ought to prevent more of life’s tragedies. I’m looking forward to reading Boyd’s God of the Possible, where he explores this idea at length.

The only missing vitamin in this book, I felt, was an emotional, experiential sense of why one should consider becoming a Christian. True to his evangelical roots, Boyd lays heavy emphasis on choosing the location of one’s eternal real estate. But since he holds the inclusivist position (which I share) that Christ may save those who, through no fault of their own, did not explicitly accept the Christian faith, that seems like a lot of effort to go through just to increase your odds. I’d like him to say more about how that faith makes sense of life here on earth. Thus, I think the best audience for this book is someone who is already motivated by other circumstances to become a believer, and just needs help overcoming popular misconceptions about Christianity.

Southern Poverty Law Center Investigates “Ex-Gay” Movement

The latest issue of Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center, includes an in-depth exposé of the “ex-gay” movement, a network of ministries that claim to cure homosexuality. These treatments, often performed by leaders who are not licensed therapists, range from the cultic (exorcisms and isolation from one’s friends and family) to the merely absurd (beauty makeovers for lesbians).

SPLC notes that these groups recently expanded their agenda to include political activism, opposing gay-rights initiatives on the grounds that sexual orientation is not an immutable trait like race and gender. The ministries’ own statistics, however, tell a different story:

To back up their claims that homosexuality is purely a deviant lifestyle choice, ex-gay leaders frequently cite the Thomas Project, a four-year study of ex-gay programs, paid for by Exodus, that recruited subjects exclusively from Exodus ministries. It was conducted by Mark Yarhouse, a psychology professor at Pat Robertson’s Regents University, and Stanton Jones, provost of Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois. Both are members of NARTH. The study was conducted through face-to-face and some phone interviews conducted annually over the course of four years. Results were published this September. Of nearly 100 people surveyed, only 11% reported a move towards heterosexuality. But no one in the study reports becoming fully heterosexual; according to the study’s authors, even the 11% group “did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and did not report heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.”

The researchers had originally hoped for 300 subjects but, according to an article in Christianity Today, “found many Exodus ministries mysteriously uncooperative.” Over the course of the four-year study, a quarter of the participants dropped out. Their reasons for quitting were not tracked. Nevertheless, the study was hailed by Exodus, Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Convention as “scientific evidence to prove what we as former homosexuals have known all along — that those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction can experience freedom from it.”

Even more remarkably, Focus on the Family cites a 67% success rate. It came up with that number by counting as “successes” subjects who practice chastity or were still engaged in homosexual acts or thoughts “but expressed commitment to continue” the therapy. Despite its rhetoric that “freedom from unwanted homosexuality is possible,” Exodus officials seem quietly aware that few, if any, of the thousands of people who participate in their ministries actually change their sexual orientation.

(NARTH is the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality; Exodus International is one of the largest umbrella organizations of ex-gay ministries.)

The article profiles Peterson Toscano, now a leader in the EX-ex-gay movement, whose blog is an excellent source of more information on this issue. I also recommend the 1993 documentary “One Nation Under God” featuring Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, two Exodus founders who quit the movement and became life partners.

It’s easy to laugh at the absurd claims of the ex-gay movement (playing softball alters your sexual orientation? straight women don’t change their own tires?), but the wreckage it leaves behind is serious: suicides, broken marriages, and junk science that may persuade legislators to vote against equal rights for GLBT citizens.

Satan Says “What’s the Point?”

I am afflicted with a sort of spiritual far-sightedness. I see the end of things more clearly than their present reality. My inner life is a constant battle between the hunger for joy and the awareness of its transience.

This temperament kept me sober and chaste in adolescence, and probably will help me again during my midlife crisis, but it’s not enough to build a life upon. Even asceticism, to avoid becoming a perverse form of self-gratification, has to treat renunciation as a means to an end, a clearing away of distractions in search of the greater pleasure of God’s presence. The man in the parable sells the field in order to gain the pearl of great price, not because he’s bored with the view.

Kafka’s story “A Hunger Artist” speaks to this dilemma. The title character made his living as a sideshow attraction, impressing and horrifying spectators with his willpower to abstain from food for weeks or months. Finally, fallen out of fashion, he remains in his sideshow cage, starving to death unnoticed, till a circus official discovers him:

“Are you still fasting?” the supervisor asked. “When are you finally going to stop?” “Forgive me everything,” whispered the hunger artist. Only the supervisor, who was pressing his ear up against the cage, understood him. “Certainly,” said the supervisor, tapping his forehead with his finger in order to indicate to the spectators the state the hunger artist was in, “we forgive you.” “I always wanted you to admire my fasting,” said the hunger artist. “But we do admire it,” said the supervisor obligingly. “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then, we don’t admire it,” said the supervisor, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I had to fast. I can’t do anything else,” said the hunger artist. “Just look at you,” said the supervisor, “why can’t you do anything else?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and, with his lips pursed as if for a kiss, speaking right into the supervisor’s ear so that he wouldn’t miss anything, “because I couldn’t find a food which I enjoyed. If had found that, believe me, I would not have made a spectacle of myself and would have eaten to my heart’s content, like you and everyone else.” Those were his last words, but in his failing eyes there was the firm, if no longer proud, conviction that he was continuing to fast.
An extreme case, perhaps, but deep inside my heart sits a little man like this, who can’t keep the dial set on Temperance but has to turn it all the way up to Disgust. Once I start looking at pleasure through his cost-benefit lens, I can’t look away. Designer handbags, pornography, hot fudge sundaes, preaching the gospel, obnoxious letters to the newspaper, conjugal love, long walks in the woods, writing my novel, attending church, all fall into the Total Perspective Vortex.

I take some comfort in Canticle 12 from The Daily Office:


Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

I The Cosmic Order

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, *
O heavens and all waters above the heavens.
Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, *
all winds and fire and heat.

Winter and Summer, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold, *
drops of dew and flakes of snow.

Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O nights and days, *
O shining light and enfolding dark.

Storm clouds and thunderbolts, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

II The Earth and its Creatures

Let the earth glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills,
and all that grows upon the earth, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams, *
O whales and all that move in the waters.

All birds of the air, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, *
and all you flocks and herds.

O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

III The People of God

Let the people of God glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O priests and servants of the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O spirits and souls of the righteous, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

You that are holy and humble of heart, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.


Let us glorify the Lord: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

What could be more transient than a drop of dew or a flake of snow? Yet we’re told that each and every one of these is able to glorify the Lord.

This canticle is subtitled “A Song of Creation”. My little man’s perpetual refrain “What’s the point?” correlates with my resistance to being created. To me, it seems arbitrary that I am myself and not another. Therefore, every choice I could make seems meaningless, because I can’t see the larger pattern to confirm that it made a difference in the right direction. It’s like writing a novel without knowing what it’s about (which is, in fact, what I am doing). This scene might be fun, but does it advance the plot? What is the plot?

When I get tangled up in these thoughts, I often think back to James K.A. Smith’s The Fall of Interpretation, which I reviewed on this blog last spring. Smith argues that we conflate finitude and fallenness, forgetting that God made us creatures limited to a particular space-time location even before the Fall. In fact, one could say that the seizing of the apple of knowledge was the first of many miserable attempts to judge our own lives from the God’s-eye view. The Total Perspective Vortex crushes us not because we are truly insignificant, but because we are not supposed to ask the question.

As a further refresher course in how to enjoy the present moment, I reread C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra trilogy this month. The first two books, taking place in Edenic worlds on Mars and Venus, deserve a place among the classics of Christian mysticism. (The final book, a social satire on the totalitarian implications of “progressive” political views, has always seemed the weakest to me, marred by cringe-worthy caricatures of lesbianism and feminism.) Lewis’ genuine testimonies of joy lend Christianity more credibility in my eyes than a hundred pages of apologetics. Almost like Buddhists, the denizens of these worlds fully enjoy the pleasures that come to them, but do not cling to them when it is time for them to give way to a new experience, because they completely trust God’s will.

(Such perfect acceptance, I fear, may be unattainable in a fallen world, where one must maintain a certain willingness to resist present conditions, lest evil triumph through inaction. One way this manifests itself is the need to distinguish between natural hierarchies and unjust inequalities; Lewis’ romanticization of the Great Chain of Being blinds him to the necessity of feminism–until he marries Joy Gresham and writes Till We Have Faces. But I digress.)

At the end of the second book, Voyage to Venus, our hero, the space-traveling philology professor Ransom, has saved the “Eve” of Venus from making the same mistake her earthly counterpart did. To the Venusian Adam and Eve, this is the dawn of a new era in the cosmos, in which an unfallen people may at last grow into the full stature that God had planned for all His creatures. But Ransom plunges into his own “What’s the point” mood. What event is the true crux of history? (“Tor” below is the Adam figure, and “Maleldil” is their name for God. “Eldils” are angels.)

“I see no more than beginnings in the history of the Low Worlds,” said Tor the King. “And in yours a failure to begin. You talk of evenings before the day had dawned. I set forth even now on ten thousand years of preparation–I, the first of my race, my race, the first of races, to begin. I tell you that when the last of my children has ripened and ripeness has spread from them to all the Low Worlds, it will be whispered that the morning is at hand.”

“I am full of doubts and ignorance,” said Ransom. “In our world those who know Maleldil at all believe that His coming down to us and being a man is the central happening of all that happens. If you take that from me, Father, whither will you lead me? Surely not into the enemy’s talk which thrusts my world and my race into a remote corner and gives me a universe with no centre at all, but millions of worlds that lead nowhere or (what is worse) to more and more worlds forever, and comes over me with numbers and empty spaces and repetitions and asks me to bow down before bigness….Is the enemy easily answered when He says that all is without plan or meaning? As soon as we think we see one it melts away into nothing, or into some other plan that we never dreamed of, and what was the centre becomes the rim, till we doubt if any shape or pattern was ever more than a trick of our own eyes, cheated with hope, or tired with too much looking. To what is it all driving? What is the morning you speak of? What is it the beginning of?”

“The beginning of the Great Game, of the Great Dance,” said Tor.

In poetic incantations, the angels then take turns telling Ransom that the center of creation is everywhere. Each beast, flower, speck of interstellar dust, or uninhabited galaxy exists for its own sake, because God, the ultimate giver of meaning, chose to make it. It doesn’t need any other justification. The angels say:

“Where Maleldil is, there is the centre. He is in every place. Not some of Him in one place and some in another, but in each place the whole Maleldil, even in the smallness beyond thought. There is no way out of the centre save into the Bent Will which casts itself into the Nowhere. Blessed be He!”

“Each thing was made for Him. He is the centre. Because we are with Him, each of us is at the centre. It is not as in a city of the Darkened World where they say that each must live for all. In His city all things are made for each. When He died in the Wounded World He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less. Each thing, from the single grain of Dust to the strongest eldil, is the end and final cause of creation and the mirror in which the beam of His brightness comes to rest and so returns to Him. Blessed be He!”

“In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else had been directed. Thus each is equally at the centre and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the great by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love. Blessed be He!”

“He has immeasurable use for each thing that is made, that His love and splendour may flow forth like a strong river which has need of a great watercourse and fills alike the deep pools and the little crannies, that are filled equally and remain unequal; and when it has filled them brim full it flows over and makes new channels. We also have need beyond measure of all that He has made. Love me, my brothers, for I am infinitely necessary to you and for your delight I was made. Blessed be He!”

“He has no need at all of anything that is made. An eldil is not more needful to Him than a grain of the Dust: a peopled world no more needful than a world that is empty: but all needless alike, and what all add to Him is nothing. We also have no need of anything that is made. Love me, my brothers, for I am infinitely superfluous, and your love shall be like His, born neither of your need nor of my deserving, but a plain bounty. Blessed be He!”

And that’s the point.

Prison Poems by “Conway”: “Trapdoor” Revised and Others

My pen pal “Conway”, who is serving 25-to-life in California state prison for receiving stolen goods, returns this month with a revised version of “Trapdoor” and other new poems. I’m enjoying the surreal turn that his work has taken, as he feels a greater freedom to make associative leaps and use imagery rather than explanation to convey emotions.


All the eyes that have groped–
    invoked, these melted sands,
        us trees in the snow, reaching out
for warm lights brightness
    instead, suffocated by whiteness.

The Sun only dissolved the black asphalt
    melted its pain, in vain
        reflecting on this concrete
crumbling, like stale crackers.

All these faces tied together on the same chain
    vacantly staring out
        of a teasing television’s lens

A world of opportunity offered, taunted
    without scents, glints
        but never relents.

A cliche “so close yet so far away”;

This distant world’s condemned
    by icy wind, forgetting its place
        in the prison’s pecking order;
Seasons listening for prompts.

Still, the only real sounds offered
    will turn into useless static
        untuneable noise we avoid.

Paranoid, of a despicable crowd’s opinion,
    wonder, about thunder’s irrelevance.

When the Earth falls open
    to swallow your soul;
Then, like a trapdoor spider
    closes back up
        to hide the hole…



This nostalgic promise retraced
is still yours, till the end of time
yours was, to always be mine
those cold feet at night
disturbing our warm bed so fine
recollect the crash
shielding your face with mine
reminisce, we missed a sign
I won’t forget my distress
watching you bringing
our bonded blood into this world
howling–kicking & screaming
make note: who made you a mother
we awoke in love with each other.

Now summon the silence: (when I fell)
when I landed in jail
this slow dragging Hell.
I carry you still, I always will
that crept up on me
like a whisper instead
I conceived my widow, before I was dead

memorizing it all, I had no one to call
no one to talk with, cushion this fall
the stillness complied too
it almost implied nothing of you
A tragedy like that
has not happened yet
I’m still alive, besides so are you
these shackles they try to disguise
just might catch our lords eyes
then trust the true light to come shining on through.

still, I can promise you this
we will never regret a kiss
your name on my breath, forget
my voice as it dies in the wind
an authentic heart
can never pretend, or
dishonor fate’s dividend…



A Guitar string breaks
        slakes away the note
    Picks this translation
weak inspiration coils up like a snake
        ready to strike out
            fangs on the concertina
slice razor sharp through the flesh
        this song being sung
            on those broken dreams
    hungry schemes of fate
shake off the silver strands empty music
            surrounds the silence
        counting another approach
when wounded strings fail to sing…