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!
I have come back several times to the way the monks worship, the liturgy of the hours, a liturgy of chanted Psalms, that weaves through each day. Below, you can see two poems that explore similar territory. To me, they're different enough that "Horarium," which came later, doesn't feel like a revision of the early "Liturgy of the Hours." What do you think?
Liturgy of the Hours
The monks rise while the rest of the world sleeps.
In the darkness, they pray.
The single mother stares at the clock and calculates
costs. The newspaper carriers start
their rounds. Truckers cross
state lines, and a woman writes poetry by candlelight.
The farmer feeds the animals as sunrise
stains the horizon. Early morning exercisers lace
their shoes and retrace their steps. Parents prepare
breakfast, and the monks pray again.
Students rush from class to class.
The housekeeper starts another load of wash.
Frazzled workers everywhere break
for coffee while the monks celebrate the Eucharist.
At noon the world eats lunch.
The monks pray, and then they eat, and then they pray again.
No one leaves work early these days.
As the dark grows close, everyone sits alone
in their cars watching the pavement
and concrete barriers. The monks pray.
The world watches bad television chosen from a host
of options—hundreds of stations beamed
from satellites, and not one satisfies.
Children chat on phones and stare
at screens. Adults wonder
how they got so far behind. The pets settle
into their sleeping spaces.
The monks gather again in darkness pierced
with candle light. Watched by statues
of Mary and the Crucified Christ, they chant Compline.
The Abbott sprinkles each man with holy water
and sends them to sleep in their cells.
The monks get their morning
news from the Psalms. We brew
coffee and scan the TV stations
for news we can use:
diet tips, a weather report,
the quickest way around the traffic jams.
We sit in our coffin
like cars and watch the sun rise
across sluggish traffic. The monks chant
to each other across the chancel
as the morning light shifts
across the sanctuary.
Chained to our computers,
we undo the work of past days
and create documents to be dismantled
tomorrow. The monks tend
the chickens and mulch
the seedlings. We shred
documents while the monks
welcome visitors to a meal.
At night, we click through cable
channels, our glazed eyes focusing on nothing.
The monks light candles
in a darkened chapel and wait
for the final blessing
of the day, a splash
of holy water and a benediction.
(published in Poetry East)