David Woo: “Divine Fire”

Prizewinning poet David Woo and the editors of the Asian American Literary Review have kindly granted me permission to reprint Woo’s poem “Divine Fire” below. The poem’s formal cadences and intellectual vocabulary seem to hold up a corrective to the apocalypse-fervor that he finds so dangerously inadequate.

“How to be good if a caul covers the prospect of your faith?” he asks, getting to the core of our temptation to “create an image, any image,” whose rules are easier to understand than the truly mysterious God. Hating the world in the name of our imagined divinity, we wind up trapped in our own imaginings, vulnerable to the skeptics’ jibe that God is only a projection of human ideals or neuroses.

Read Woo’s thoughts on the genesis of this poem here .

Divine Fire

“No more apocalypses!” the fanatics never cry. Extinction
is bliss for those who resent human life. We mocked
the fizzle of New Year’s 2000. We mock the wingnuts
who let the icecaps melt because the Rapture is nigh.

How to be good if a caul covers the prospect of your faith?
Create an image, any image, haloed, scimitared, thrust it
through Time’s wasp-waisted birth canal, let it emerge
bearded, lank, rebarbative. Tell yourself he’s the Man.

Now sit back as He pries the world apart. This is the end,
you’ll surmise, the end of dalliance, of amity, the last gasp
of afflatus, of consequent sorrow. Watch as He scythes
the last wheat, which flies like the severed heads of infidels.

Then why does the bread we break savor of no body
but the embodied ghosts of ancient grass? What infinity lives
in the turning leaves but a vaulted vision of our bonhomie?
What life basks at this homely fire but sees Saoshyant’s flame?

The embers will hold an American absence, ashes that leave
no mark of ankh or enso on him who frees critical mass
from a suitcase bomb. The last cloud will rain fire on flesh
that chars to faithless marrow. Even now the soul is fugitive.

(Editor’s note: Saoshyant is the World Savior figure in Zoroastrianism.)

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