POETRY: Four Poems On Thomas Merton

Patrick Ryan


Seventy men
Held the city
Rigid and tight

Someone ran out
Into the desert night

Every now and then
He would throw a handful of sand
Into the wind


Prophets never age

They live too strong
To prolong
Their days

Pure heart
Your words remain
To test our heart

You, word,
Will never age

Thérèse Lentfoehr

(For a monk in winter)

You said you carried a bird
of fire under your heart
that sang in all weathers so
that you stepped in madrigal,
each swift sandal-print brimmed with
music. But that was in spring
when your trees stood greenly tranced
in pointilliste, and I (care-
ful for you as a sister)
wondered what would happen in
winter when you cave with Juan
de la Cruz, faring leanly
on sparse manna and a cup
of dark torrent?
These days are
come—as flying a synapse
of sky your late letter flails
with the storm and drops like snow
to my hand. Breathless, I take
the page to my window to
peer through the slim spokes of words
for a glimpse of your cageling,
touch one lustrous feather, and
make my dark moor shine with its
“Shelley plain.”
But only the
north wind moves and sings; when
suddenly, remembering
the light on your face, I stand
small and abashed at my in-
comprehending—for here is
that ingle of quiet where
the intellect unhoods to
that Sun whose alembic sifts
firebird like fountains that
have now (how wonderfully)
become in you a silence—
for the silence is the bird.

(In Memory of Thomas Merton)

Sagittarius spells the first year
of our diminishment
remembering an acre of crosses,
new-turned Kentucky clay
and out of an invisible cloud
the small white hail in a shower—

the last giveaway of his secret
who sat with God in a cloud
and told how it was to be startled
into love. Whether he waded
up the oak-shelved path mixing Stravinsky
and plainsong, or sang with

the Beatles in the cabin on the hill
it did not trouble the cloud.
Paradox of monk who from a hermitage
of a thousand windows
watched our world (loving it) and chose it
his ashram. At the sign

of the Lotus he flew oceans
to orient mountains
and there came barefoot to the Burning Bush.
The myth of his cloud
was fire. And home over the shouting
Pacific a gentle sky

had him—a silent guest in the belly
of the jet with his much-
mourned Vietnam brothers (each in his gray
catacomb). In this now day
of resurrection, these with him we
celebrate, praising

the Creator who in so brief and
desperate a season
shaped us a friend who reached into our
solitudes and with
the finger of a word touched in us the deep
places of the living God.

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