Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman is a professor of English at Vanderbilt, and the collection of poems of his I find myself working through is entitled Questions for Ecclesiastes. Jarman's poetry is marked by a steady rhythm, and often as not (surprise surprise!) formal patterns of rhyming, but it is only the more natural for those conduits and boundaries. His poems are infused equally with a questioning eye for the spiritual and an ironic, but deep, sense of humor.

The poem below is taken from his 20-poem series, "Unholy Sonnets," reversing Donne's "Holy Sonnets" with truly funny, but also potent and incisive, explorations of human life bound by forces (lively and deadly) beyond our control or knowledge -- but persistently, inevitably shot through with the mystery of a God we confuse with everything not-God.

My own poem afterward is part of an ongoing reflection on the church's sad history of bloodshed. Sometimes it is a simple task to name with integrity the church as the people of God. Sometimes it is not. Reading history can lead one to the latter conclusion rather quickly.

[Update: I have taken down poems I am in the process of submitting for publication. I apologize for the confusion and/or inconvenience!]

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Unholy Sonnets: 9

By Mark Jarman

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open,
All throats, all voice boxes, all inner ears,
All pupils, all tear ducts, all cavities
Inside the skull inside the trick of flesh.
To you the face is like a picture window,
The body is a door of molded glass,
All lengths of gut are pasture, all membrane
Peels back and off like ripe persimmon skin.
And every wrinkle folded in the brain
Runs smoothly through your fingers and snaps back
Into its convolution. Even the blood
Is naked as a bolt of oilcloth.
You touch the working parts and track the thought,
A comet on your fingertip, and squint.

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