Jeff Mock: “The God of Simple Vision”

It’s not easy to write a poem critiquing fundamentalism without falling into the same black-and-white thinking as one’s opponents, only with heroes and villains reversed. Outrage, however righteous, can work at cross-purposes to the subtler techniques that give a good poem its depth. Complexity and ambiguity leave room for the reader to inhabit the poem, and give her a reason to reread it. On the other hand, there are times when a loud, clear voice is the only way to do justice to a serious topic.

This poem by Jeff Mock, a creative writing professor at Southern Connecticut State University, skillfully navigates these pitfalls. Rather than presenting a counter-polemic, he redescribes the Christian conservatives’ triumphalism as a tragedy, where repression of the unfamiliar and inexplicable makes them blind to the very thing they seek. It originally appeared in LocusPoint, in a group of his “god/goddess of…” poems that I encourage you to read, and is reprinted with his permission.


Complexity blurs the silhouettes of everything,
Even on a grand scale: you may, from a distance,

Mistake a sassafras leaf for all
Of North America. You may mistake it
For the mashed peas your mother served you

Before you knew right from wrong.
You may mistake it for the guard who all night

Paces the watchtower and scans
The borderlands. One man’s stranger
Is another man’s threat. Some

Unlucky victims, it’s true, are more
Unlucky than others. And while Heaven does not

Belong in the realm of politics, you may mistake
A sunflower for your Lord Jesus Christ
Walking, arms outstretched, toward you through

The Electoral College and perfumed gardens
Of America. It is simple, really: nothing

Outside is inside. You may not be of two
Minds, not when just a modicum
Of grade-school theology will direct

Your every step to the midway where you’ll find
The con artists and carnival tricks

And moral flag-waving, the lurching
Haze. Every stranger is a shadow
On your heart. Subtract charity and you all

Come to your Lord less than equal—
You are separate. Across the gulf of difference,

The grief of other victims is authentic
And utterly strange. Their grief cannot
Touch you, nor their love. So love gives out

And is merely a funeral without a body,
Which you may well mistake for a miracle.

2 comments on “Jeff Mock: “The God of Simple Vision”

  1. Although I am not a Fundamentalist in the Protestant sense, I am an orthodox Roman Catholic who has several things in common with Fundamentalists whether I like that or not.

    Nevertheless. I think this is a fine poem as a poem. And I’m happy with that.

    It dawns on me, however, that I probably would never be move to write a poem about “liberal” Christians and whatever I might perceive to be their “shortcomings.” I might argue with them in prose but probably not poetry. Of course, I might some day eat those words.

  2. This poem is right on target as the perfect reading for the day that Mitt gets nominated. I actually appreciate your introduction even more than the poem.

    I am writing text for a book on Doug Blanchard’s 24-painting series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.” I have been trying to put into words why his art is great. Much of what you wrote about Jeff Mock’s poem also applies to Doug’ art, especially this: “Complexity and ambiguity leave room for the reader to inhabit the poem, and give her a reason to reread it.” I wish I had written that!

    In case anyone wants to know what I’m talking about and see a visual corollary to the poem, here is a link to the series. This particular link goes to the Palm Sunday image, a scene of what you call “triumphalism as a tragedy.”

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