by Jonathan Vold

Thursday, December 15

Moleskin 6.1: Prayer

In 1974 a football player took the place of Tricky Dick, and in 1975 a peanut farmer announced that he wanted the job.  Jimmy Carter had a brother, Billy, whose own inspirations didn’t get much farther than a beer can, but Jimmy, the governor of Georgia now, was more driven. The football player, meanwhile, seemed bumbling, and not just physically, as Saturday Night Live had fun pointing out, but also inspirationally: on the campaign trail his most prominent position seemed to be to get people to wear a button that said, almost unimaginatively, “WIN.” Whip Inflation Now, it meant, although it never really explained how. All of this was in the papers I was delivering and starting to read more in my twelfth and thirteenth years, but it would be much later that I gave more than a passing notice to one of Carter’s more interesting side comments on the campaign trail, a nod of great respect to a theologian, Reinhold Niebhur.

Wednesday, December 14


But he answered and said to them, 
“You give them something to eat.”
— Mark 6:37 (NKJV)

You, one and all of you,

nameless counselors,
collective observers
adding little to the sentence,
barely part of the plot,

yet there you are, pronounced
in every translation,
prompting response and
preceding the action.

Feed my sheep;
as the day begins to wear,
give them something to eat.

You, second person,

the emphasized imperative,
God’s audience specifically
commissioned and directed
to a singular assignment:

having first observed,
be ready to serve;
as the Lord has called you,
hear that holy word:

feed my sheep;
they do not need to go away,
give them something to eat.

You, Christ companion,

one of the twelve
on a failed retreat
and a broken rest,
your Sabbath overtaken
by a hungry crowd:

having seen the need
but unsure of the logistics,
you’ve been firmly turned
around to see the deed:

feed my sheep;
all these sheep without a shepherd,
give them something to eat.


You, fellow traveler,

being stirred one morning to the life of follow,
pulled by a pulse to leave hearth and hold,
drawn to the shepherd’s call and still
at the shepherd’s feet as the day grows old:

here in the hungry gather,
observing the surround,
with an echo in your stomach
and the journey on your shoulders,

feed my sheep;
lie them down in these green pastures,
give them something to eat.
You, faithful follower,
making your way from practical to miracle,
turning attention from mortal to divine,
being taught to pray, to teach, to heal,
now learn your greater discipline:

take these five loaves, these couple of fish
let them first be blessed and broken, then
give thanks for what you’re given
and let the people have their fill:

feed my sheep;
with all of your devotion,
give them something to eat.
You, just as you are,
one of the sheep
having come this far,
knowing the hunger
and needing the rest,
you give it all to Jesus
and Jesus answers
with a bit of a challenge,
a bit of a test

putting you front and center
to be God’s hands,
to show God’s love,
to prepare the feast:
feed my sheep;
for the love of God, they’re hungry,
give them something to eat.

Tuesday, December 13

Mots du Jour

This is my way of calling it a day,
Of sorting through immediate memories
To find what's worth repeating, and by these,
My random stops and starts along the way,
Remembering the journey.  Every day
Its own adventure, every moment seized
A glimpse of further possibilities,
Each orbit spinning something more to say.
So here's my say, my call, my mots du jour,
My journal written of its own accord,
My record entered into history,
The story of my life, my private tour,
My positure, my confluence ---each word,
Like time itself, as it occurs to me.

Monday, December 12


Don’t be a cipher, someone said.
Show us the face that hides behind
The poems you have let us read,
Give us a glimpse beyond the mind
Of the poet who has edited
His life down into metered lines,
Whose given his blog a leveled screed
But nothing past the words he’s signed.

Here, then, you have my picture: See
The aging and the fattening
Of fifty years, the lazy eye
That looks like it is focusing
On things in the periphery;
See what’s in need of ironing,
The fashions that have passed me by,
The cry for different coloring,

And there is more, of course.  I could
Divulge my sordid history
Of marriage leading to divorce,
Of education forcing me
To compromises, of a good
Career besmirched with obloquy.
But there is always more, of course,
Than who I would pretend to be.

With marriage, I have progeny
With stories of their own to tell;
With education, I have learned
The fathoms of my earthly well
Of ignorance; and should you see
The merchandise I try to sell,
For every dollar fairly earned,
My reputation’s mostly held.

But turn away from all of this.
What should it matter what I wear
Or how I always seem to look
Or just how well I comb my hair,
If I’m a father with no wife,
More lawyer than you’d have me be
Or lead an unenlightened life?
For now, you have my poetry.

Sunday, December 11

The Source

from Walled Gardens

God takes earth and forms our body,
   takes wind and forms our speech
   gives reason to our minds,
   inspiration to our hearts,
   invitation to our souls,
   cause to our creation.

God gives theme to every generation
      and truth to every corruption;
God is the source from which everything comes,
      the place to which everything returns:
Good proceeds from God and evil departs from God,
     as God created the spirit of each,
   good and evil in every soul,
   as God authors the soul,
   originates the mind,
   makes each of us something out of nothing
   and exalts us, gives us life out of the void.

Saturday, December 10

Reflective Study of Wallace Stevens' Man and Bottle

The mind is the great poem of winter, the man
   The heart is the rose and ice of spring, the child
Who, to find what will suffice,
   Who, accepting everything,
Destroys romantic tenements
   Creates the real poetry
Of rose and ice  
   Of life

In the land of war.  More than the man, it is
   In a state of grace.  More than a child, it is
A man with the fury of the race of men,
   A child full of the innocence of youth,
A light at the centre of many lights
   A rising sun, a breaking light,
A man at the centre of men.
   A child at the edge of truth.
It has to content the reason concerning war,
   It never questions the cause or concern of grace,
It has to persuade that war is a part of itself,
   It never argues that grace is out of place, it is
A manner of thinking, a mode
   A matter of feeling, the core
Of destroying, as the mind destroys,
   Of creating, so the heart creates
An aversion, as the world is averted
   A convergence, as the dawn converges
From an old delusion, an old affair with the sun,
   To a new awareness, a new affair with the sun,
An impossible aberration with the moon,
   The inevitable deviation from the moon,
A grossness of peace.
   The end of night.

It is not the snow that is the quill, the page.
   It is not the rose that is the dawn, the spring.
The poem lashes more fiercely than the wind,
   The ice breaks, the winter melts away
As the mind, to find what will suffice, destroys
   As the heart, accepting everything, creates
Romantic tenements of rose and ice.
   The real poetry of life.

Friday, December 9

TWL, Lines 427-432: Shored Against My Ruins

427 London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
428 Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
429 Quando fiam ceu chelidon — O swallow swallow
430 Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
431 These fragments I have shored against my ruins
432 Why then Ile fit you.  Hieronymo's mad againe.

427. LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN is the opening of a nursery rhyme first referenced in The London Chaunticleres (1657, Anon.).  It also alludes back to line 22 (a heap of broken images), 62 (crowd flowing over the bridge), 173 (the river’s tent is broken) and 374 (falling towers).  See also John Henry Mackay, Anarchy (1888), for a similarly toned answer to the question just posed in line 426, “Shall I at least set my lands in order?”:

“‘Wreck of all order,’ cry the multitude,
‘Art thou, & war & murder’s endless rage.’
O, let them cry. To them that ne'er have striven
The truth that lies behind a word to find,
To them the word's right meaning was not given.
They shall continue blind among the blind.
But thou, O word, so clear, so strong, so true,
Thou sayest all for which I for goal have taken.
I give thee to the future! Thine secure
When each at least unto himself shall waken.”

428. ARNAUT DANIEL: Eliot: “V. Purgatorio, XXVI, 148.
'Ara vos prec per aquella valor
'que vos guida al som de l'escalina,
'sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor.'
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina.” See Dante, Purgatorio 26.145-148:

“Therefore do I implore you, by that power
Which guides you to the summit of the stairs,
Be mindful to assuage my suffering!’

Then hid him in the fire that purifies them.”

Dante attributed the first three lies of this passage, written in Old Occitan, to Provencal poet Arnaut Daniel, whom Dante called the “better craftsman,” as Eliot would in turn call Ezra Pound (see note 0.2).Daniel says this as he follows Italian poet Guido Guinizelli, who had “vanished in the fire.” (26.134).  See Dante, Purgatorio 26:115-148:

"O brother," said he, "he whom I point out,"
And here he pointed at a spirit in front,
"Was of the mother tongue a better smith.
Verses of love and proses of romance,
He mastered all; and let the idiots talk,
Who think the Lemosin surpasses him.
To clamour more than truth they turn their faces,
And in this way establish their opinion,
Ere art or reason has by them been heard.
Thus many ancients with Guittone did,
From cry to cry still giving him applause,
Until the truth has conquered with most persons.
Now, if thou hast such ample privilege
'Tis granted thee to go unto the cloister
Wherein is Christ the abbot of the college,

To him repeat for me a Paternoster,
So far as needful to us of this world,
Where power of sinning is no longer ours."

Then, to give place perchance to one behind,
Whom he had near, he vanished in the fire
As fish in water going to the bottom.

I moved a little tow'rds him pointed out,
And said that to his name my own desire
An honourable place was making ready.
He of his own free will began to say:
'Tan m' abellis vostre cortes deman,
Que jeu nom' puesc ni vueill a vos cobrire;
Jeu sui Arnaut, que plor e vai chantan;
Consiros vei la passada folor,
E vei jauzen lo jorn qu' esper denan.
Ara vus prec per aquella valor,
Que vus condus al som de la scalina,
Sovenga vus a temprar ma dolor.' ◦
Then hid him in the fire that purifies them.
◦ So pleases me your courteous demand,
I cannot and I will not hide me from you.

I am Arnaut, who weep and singing go;
Contrite I see the folly of the past,
And joyous see the hoped-for day before me.

Therefore do I implore you, by that power
Which guides you to the summit of the stairs,
Be mindful to assuage my suffering!

429. SWALLOW SWALLOW: Eliot: “V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela in Parts II and III.

See Tiberianus, The Vigil of Venus 88-93 (400 BC, tr. Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch 1912):

“Ah, loitering Summer!  Say when For me shall be broken the charm, that I chirp with the swallow again?  I am old; I am dumb; I have waited to sing till Apollo withdrew—So Amyclae a moment was mute, and for ever a wilderness grew. Now learn ye to love who loved never—-now ye who have loved, love anew, To-morrow!—-to-morrow!”
Amyclae was the ancient Spartan home of the Sanctuary of Apollo and the grave of Hyacinth.  An annual festival, the Hyacinthia, celebrated Hyacinth’s death and rebirth.  See note 36 for the legend of Hyacinth.

“Say when... that I chirp with the swallow again?” is the passage cited from Tiberianus’s poem, and Eliot also ties this to the post-rape transformation of Philomela and her sister into a nightingale and a swallow(see note 99).

See also Algernon Charles Swinburne, Itylus (1864): “Swallow, my sister, O sister swallow.” Swinburne’s poem combines the story of Philomela with the story of Itylus referred to in Homer, Odyssey 19: 524-534, in which Aedon is turned into a nightingale after accidentally killing her son Itylus. See also Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Princess; A Melody (1884): “O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying south,” and compare this with Countess Marie going south for the winter (line 18).

430. MAN OF SHADOWS. Eliot: “V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado.”

See El Desdichado (1853; tr. J. Vold): “Once Prince of Aquitaine, my tower undone...”  My full translation of The Loser:

“I’m a man of shadows, widowed, unconsoled,
Once Prince of Aquitaine, my tower undone,
My star departed; even my stellar strings
Are strummed with Melancholy’s blackened sun.

From this grave darkness, you who once consoled me
Bring me back to the mountains by the sea,
Return the flower of pleasure to my heart,
The grapevine and the rose of Italy.

Once Love and once Apollo, king and rogue,
My forehead wears the lipstick of the Queen,
My dreams have tarried where the Siren sings.

I’ve conquered Acheron to hell and back again;
I’ve resonated on these Orphean strings
From saintly sighs to pixilated cries.”

Secondary allusions abound here, to the hyancinth flower (line 36), Jean Verdenal’s death in Italy (note 42), the siren songs of Ariel and the River nymphs (note 266), the woman fiddling on her hair (note 378), the journey across Acheron (see Dante*,Inferno 3.76-78) and, in the cited line, the tower undone (note 374).  De Nerval, a close friend of Charles Baudelaire (see note 76), was also known to have fits of madness; see line 432, and see Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899):

“...with Gérard there was no pose; and when, one day, he was found in the Palais-Royal, leading a lobster at the end of a blue ribbon (because, he said, it does not bark, and knows the secrets of the sea), the visionary had simply lost control of his visions, and had to be sent to Dr. Blanche's asylum at Montmartre.”

432. HAMLET AND HIERONYMO: Eliot*: “V. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.” See Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronymo’s Mad Again (1592), 4.1-5, where Hieronymo speaks:

“Why then, I'll fit you; say no more.
When I was young, I gave my mind
And plied myself to fruitless poetry;
Which though it profit the professor naught,
Yet is it passing pleasing to the world.”

See Eliot, Hamlet and His Problems (note 417), citing Kyd’s play as a source for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In trying to interpret and understand the present poem, one might transpose what Eliot wrote about Shakespeare and Hamlet. On interpretation: “Qua work of art, the work of art cannot be interpreted; there is nothing to interpret... for “interpretation” the chief task is the presentation of relevant historical facts which the reader is not presumed to know.”

And on understanding: “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. ...We should have to understand things that Shakespeare did not understand himself.”

Yet even in a lack of understanding there can be appreciation, and Eliot, in ceding to “the peace that passeth understanding” admits as much (see note 434). Even his final “shantih” comment, he says, is a “feeble translation” of the concept; and yet, incomprehensible as it may be, it is still something for this poet, and every poet and reader, to strive for.

Thursday, December 8

Moleskin 5.10: Rivers Of Hope And Worry

There are times when I look at my eighteen year old daughter or my fifteen year old son that I wish I could jump ahead a few years just to see how everything turns out. I worry for them sometimes, but more often it is fatherly pride that sparks this wish. I am eager to see their lives unfold, and my wishes become even more hopeful as I think further ahead, to years I become increasingly less likely to see. This is not the best way to tell a story, though. I am eager now to tell you what would happen when I was fourteen, and twenty three, and twenty six ----not to mention those years ahead after my son and daughter were born. Of course I did not know any of these things in the summer and fall of twelve, though, and as I sat and contemplated the stream before me my thoughts were filled more with worry than eagerness, more worry than a wandersome boy should be troubled with, less eagerness than one would expect along the edge of stability. But that’s where I was.

Wednesday, December 7

Tales, Part IV

Come you lost Atoms, to your Center draw, and be the Mirror,
Reflecting God’s light in the contemplation...

Come you without feather, uplift your souls, leave gravity behind
And give wing to the lofty aspiration...

But even as angels to earth will return, send back your songs
Of faith and truth and all the proclamations...

I sing, Simorgh, my own reflections of God the great I Am
Through the Son of Man, my only known salvation...

But I will turn my self to selflessness, and to the world will sing
In ghazals of old, this nascent explanation of thirty birds.

Tuesday, December 6

Tales, Part III

And so on speaks the hoopoe, for every bird another tale
And along the way he dedicates a word for every vale:

Valley of the Quest, of zeal, of all that a heart can achieve;
Vale of Love, of spark and fire, desire for the heart to move;

Vale of Insight, to crave, to hunger, to have all truths revealed;
Vale of Detachment, of abandon, Joseph thrown into a well;

Vale of Unity, through faith, the purest essence of the soul;
Vale of Awe, doubting doubt and finding the unbelievable;

Vale of Poverty, of emptiness, what words cannot express,
Beyond all selfish acts, the final cup of nothingness;

Until at last, through zeal and spark and craving and abandon,
through faith and awe and selflessness they climb the final mountain.

And they will find their king...

Monday, December 5

Tales, Part II

The hoopoe tells of an arduous flight through seven valleys
With tales of trials along the way, for every bird a tale:

Tale of the nightingale in love with love, the thorniest rose;
Tale of the peacock who clings to the trappings of paradise;

Tale of the parrot who seeks its eternal existence here;
Tale of the duck looking in ponds for purity to appear;

Tale of the homa, shadow-slave to the vanity of kings;
Tale of the falcon, blinded by the status its master brings;

Tale of the heron in a lonely place, gazing at the sea;
Tale of the owl seeking treasure, finding anxiety;

Tale of the sparrow of humility and hypocrisy;
Tale of the phoenix caught in a cycle, ever born to die;

Tale of the partridge who lives for love of gems that never move;
Tale of a lovebird chained forever to superficial love;

Tale after tale, revealing how through every foibled fable
We see ourselves burn in the conflagration of thirty birds.

Sunday, December 4

Tales, Part I

The simple truth falls in a single feather to thirty birds
And God is revealed to the congregation...

A single feather floats down from a mountain far away
And faith takes its hold in the speculation...

A thousand faces, a thousand creeds, as many excuses:
We see ourselves burn in the conflagration...

And who would believe the outcome of this gathering babel?
Consensus is born of determination...

In unified purpose, the kingless resolve to find their king,
To put face to feathery form, the nation of thirty birds.

Saturday, December 3

Tales of Simorgh, Revisited

O swallows, swallows, poems are not
The point. Finding again the world,
That is the point...
— Howard Nemerov

This is the culmination of my Thirty Birds collection, a poem presented in modified ghazal style reflecting the 12th century Persian legend of Simorgh, king of the birds.  The various species of birds in the world agreed that they needed to find their king, but most species, being bound to their various natures, are unable to commit to the harrowing journey.  Only thirty birds remain to climb the final mountain, where each bird sees the king, Simorgh, in a different light, yet Simorgh is king of all of them.

The original story, by Farid ud-Din Attar, is an epic poem that runs for 4,500 lines.  My poem is barely one percent of this, but I hope I have captured that which has intrigued me the most about this tale.  We birds are flawed as we make our way to God, and many of us will not make it to the end.  We are also biased in our perceptions, and even as we approach the palace, we only see what we are able to see.  And who, ultimately, is right?  All of us, and none of us, too.  We see only a dark reflection for now, but one day we will see face to face.

Friday, December 2

TWL, Lines 424-426: The Fisher King

424 I sat upon the shore
425 Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
426 Shall I at least set my lands in order?

425. THE FISHER KING: Eliot: “V. Weston, From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher King.”

The fisher king sitting on a river bank, and the allusion of one who was gravely injured and, with his entire country, desperately in need of healing, is a prevailing image in this poem.  See Weston, Ritual to Romance 9: 117, 129:

“...he was called the Fisher King because of his devotion to the pastime of fishing ...If the Grail story be based upon a Life ritual the character of the Fisher King is of the very essence of the tale, and his title, so far from being meaningless, expresses, for those who are at pains to seek, the intention and object of the perplexing whole.”

But the image of this fisherman keeps reappearing in different shades and colors. See him weeping at lines 182-184, then sitting alongside a rat in the mud at lines 185-189, then musing upon the king’s wreck at lines 190-192. Later, fishmen are lounging at noon at line 263. Eliot directly compared the Fisher King to the Tarot deck’s three-staved merchant who stands on a seaside cliff and watches ships pass by (see notes 46 and 51), and he also imagined the fisherman as a sailor coming home from the sea in the evening (see note 221). Finally, at line 425, with the dry land behind him and the water in front of him, the Fisher King considers whether it might be time to set things right.

See Isaiah 38:1: 

“Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.”

This was Isaiah’s counsel to a mortally sick King Hezekiah, which led the king to weep.

Thursday, December 1

Moleskin 5.9: Stability River

But the clean slate was less than it would seem. The grades did not say anything about where I had been or where I was going or who I wanted to be. I still had a little Huck Finn in me, for one thing, with rivers to explore and rebellions to consider. The house, it was nice, but it was still not much more than where I happened to live, and who could say, after that summer of twelve, where thirteen and fourteen would find me. And yes, it looked like we would have stability now with no more being single-parented at the looms of poverty, no more unincorporated neighborhoods full of dinner smells and dumpsters, no more weekends at the Dolphin Motel. But I was not, will never be ready to write my dad out of the story, so there I was on the banks of Stability River, doing a lot of thinking.