While I am away at Mepkin Abbey, I'm leaving some poems inspired by my time there: one per day. And in case criminals read this blog post, don't think about breaking into my house; you'll meet my spouse, and it will not end well.
Back to poems!
For the past few years, I've gone to Mepkin Abbey in February. Before that, I went in the fall. Below, you'll see two poems that came from the same week-end.
One year, my annual trip to Mepkin Abbey coincided with Veteran's Day, which was first Armistice Day. It also happened to be near All Saints Day, the first All Saints Day after Abbot Francis Kline had been cruelly taken early by leukemia. Part of one of the services was out in the monks' cemetery, and all the retreatents were invited out with the monks. I was struck by the juxtapositions, and I wrote this poem:
Armistice Day at the Abbey The monks bury their dead on this slight
rise that overlooks the river
that flows to the Atlantic, that site
where Africans first set foot on slavery’s soil.
These monks are bound
to a different master, enslaved
in a different system.
They chant the same Psalms, the same tones
used for centuries. Modern minds scoff,
but the monks, yoked together
into a process both mystical and practical,
do as they’ve been commanded.
Their graves, as unadorned as their robes,
stretch out in rows of white crosses, reminiscent
of a distant French field. We might ponder
the futility of belief in a new covenant,
when all around us old enemies clash,
or we might show up for prayer, light
a candle, and simply submit.
I was also struck by other images, and I wrote the poem below. Some years, I like it, particularly as I tried not to explain too much, to just collect images. Some years, it feels unfinished to me.
Autumn at the Abbey
I drove seven hundred miles from the tip
of Spanish speaking Florida to the Gullah drenched
I arose in the wee small hours of the morning
to drive up the spine of the state
with truckers and other insomniacs.
I saw the flaming
orange fields, the flickers
of light across the river.
I have eaten eggs from the chickens
raised by monks and been sprinkled
with holy water before bed.
I saw the baby Jesus
created from a
cornucopia of materials.
I harmonized with monks
and chanted my way through a quarter
of the Psalms.
I watched the monks at sunset
walking under Spanish moss draped
trees, ghosts from a different century.
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