measuring tape, image by Thomas Wolter, on Pixabay
How are you going to do it?
How do you weigh the Infinite?
How do you measure the Absolute?
How do you test the IQ of Omniscience?
Would you measure God for a suit?
Would you ask His age, or how much
money He has in the Bank of Heaven?
What about race, or His education?
What are His interests, likes or dislikes,
pet peeves, political opinions? Or
maybe you want to just ask one thing
only—what are His dreams, his loves?
Only you would ask God such,
only you would try to scale divinity,
only you can breed such arrogance —
the tiger burning bright asks for no
accounting, nor does the deer as it’s
slain, not the eagle as it soars nor
the reptile as it slithers—but you
do, you creature of singular gifts.
You want to take the measure of
your Creator, though you’ve been
told you’re made in His image,
something not told to the lion
or the grizzly bear or the butterfly,
and still you want to measure Him—
Why must you try always to
put God in a box?
You made untold numbers of idols,
all reflecting your vanity, not His.
And then when he came to you as
one of you, a human being, what did
you do? You could not understand how
God could speak to you so simple and
true, you could not grasp what He gave,
and so, you killed him.
A few of the wisest of you knew, knew
it was never God you wanted to test,
never God you wanted to take hold of,
never God you wanted to understand —
it was you all along you wanted to see,
that thing called a soul which you both
doubted and longed for, that thing even
death could not harm, that Being of air
and light you saw in the man crucified.
I Have Been to Places of Great Death
I have been to places of great death:
Walking the battlefield of Gettysburg,
As a lusty young man of no firm belief
Who stepped between the great rocks
Of Devil’s Den and felt his soul shudder
As though he had been a soldier there,
And died in fear a long, long time ago.
I taught my tongue to the gentle Khmers
As civil war raged and the killing fields
Were being sown—I left before the
Heartless murdering began, the killing
Of over a million: teachers and students,
Doctors and farmers, the old, the young,
Each with a photo taken before dying,
Their pictures taped to classroom walls.
And when I visited Hiroshima, now myself
Chastened by death’s touch, and knowing
My soul real, knowing of meaning absolute
And of unseen forces that work good or ill,
As I stood at the first ground zero, I once
Again shuddered to feel the pull of madness
(Though I knew not if it was my own or some
Remains of that evil which brought the fire
And brimstone of a world-wide war…)
But by then I knew I could pray, and so
Opened my desperate heart and sought
His mercy—and then I saw a sort of angel,
Who took me from that place of insanity,
Healing me while we wandered by the
Beauty of the Inland Sea as my storm
Calmed and left me, never to return….
I have been to places of great death, and
I have felt death’s cold, careless hands.
But I know now what death itself fears:
The Light, the light eternal which carries
Souls beyond time itself, like the winds
Of a Love exceeding all understanding.
(Previously published in Taj Mahal Review, June 2020)
PSALM FOR A MATERIAL AGE
I sing to you from an empty vessel
For you gave me my eternal voice.
All about me are lost, all are deaf
To Your voice as it flies on the wind
And none can see, all blind beggars
Unaware of their deep, deep poverty.
Your beauty is everywhere: sunlight
And moonlight and the grace of birds
In their flights of freedom—and trees
That stand as guardians, and oceans
Whose waves crest eternally, and
Your grace…ah, that is what holds
The Universe itself together, and
In us is the love that calms, the
Love that pulls meaning from death
And gives hope to those who reach.
(Previously published in Poetry Quarterly, Fall 2018)
IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
WHEN I WAS A YOUNG MAN
I WAS SWALLOWED BY A WHALE,
LIKE JONAH I FOUND MYSELF
IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
AND I TOO CALLED OUT
TO GOD FROM ITS DEEP
AND GOD RELEASED ME
AND I FOUND MYSELF BACK
IN MY BODY ON THE SHORE.
FOR A LONG, LONG TIME
THAT WHALE FOLLOWED ME—
I WAS NEVER SAFE, NOT EVEN
ON DRY LAND, FOR THAT BEAST
COULD GO ANYWHERE, AND
ONLY THE LIGHT, THAT UNIQUE
AND WONDROUS BRILLIANCE
NOT OF THIS WORLD, COULD
CLOTHE MY NAKED SOUL
AND KEEP THE BEAST AT BAY.
A SENSE OF GOD
It comes with the light,
Driving darkness to dust,
Breathing life into death,
Freeing all touched softly.
There is a way of seeing
Without eyes, hearing
Beyond human ears,
Smelling a rose before
Its seed is in the earth,
And touching a beating
Heart with unseen hands.
It takes no more than one
Drop of His blood to save
A world lost in madness.
Nolo Segundo (his pen name) has been published in various literary journals the past few years since he began writing again after a 35-year hiatus. He doesn't know why the poems started coming to him again, but suspects they come from someplace deeper than the unconscious mind—his soul.
As a young man, he did not believe in either soul or God—not until, at 24, he suffered
a major clinical depression and, in an attempt to escape to what he thought would be extinction, nothingness, he leapt off a bridge into a Vermont river. The near-death experience he had was not of the “white light” sort—it was terrible, actually, but he has come to thank God for it all.
Fifty years later, he’s still trying to understand all of it, but he knows that chance is the real illusion, and the problem with sentient human life is not that it is meaningless—the only logical conclusion to atheism—but that there is so much meaning in virtually every moment we can only grasp a portion of it.
He is the author of two books: The Enormity of Existence, and Of Ether and Earth.
August 2021 issue