Scott Cairns

POETRY: After The Last Words by Scott Cairns

October 24, 2018

By now I’m dead. Make what you will of that. But granted you are alive, you will need to be making something more as well. Prayers have been made, for instance, but (trust me) the dead are oblivious to such sessions. Settle instead for food, nice meals (thick soup); invite your friends. Make lively conversation among steaming bowls, lifting heavy spoons. If there is bread (there really should be bread), tear it coarsely and hand each guest his share for intinction in the soup. Something to say? Say it now. Let the napkins fall and stay. Kiss each guest when time comes for leaving. They may be embarrassed, caught without wit or custom. (See them shifting from foot to foot at the open door?) Could be you will repeat your farewells a time [...]

POETRY: The End Of The World by Scott Cairns

September 30, 2017

The end of the world occurs with the first thaw. Waking from his first restful night in many months—a night without shivering, without cramp- ing muscles—the last man lifts his head from the straw, hears snow-melt trickling, sees morning light through the window’s ice, smells the scent of earth, lies back, and dies because he cannot bear to go through it all again. But that is a very limited view of the event. The end was more than the final exhaustion of the last man. Actually, some of the most interesting events of human history occurred just prior to this last gesture, which is not surprising if you take into account the fact that, in the last years of human experience, irony flourished. The last man was a Jew, a fact that he [...]

POETRY: On Slow Learning by Scott Cairns

September 24, 2017

If you’ve ever owned a tortoise, you know how terribly difficult paper training can be for some pets. Even if you get so far as to instill in your tortoise the value of achieving the paper, there remains one obstacle— your tortoise’s intrinsic sloth. Even a well-intentioned tortoise may find himself in his journeys to be painfully far from the mark. Failing, your tortoise may shy away for weeks within his shell, utterly ashamed, or, looking up with tiny, wet eyes, might offer an honest shrug. Forgive [...]

POETRY: Another Song by Scott Cairns

September 13, 2017

Most mornings I wake up slowly. That’s just the way I am. I wake up slow as I can, listening first to one thing, then another. The milk bottles chiming just outside the door, then the milktruck idling in the street. If I’m lucky, the girl through the wall will be singing and I’ll hear her next, singing while she dresses. Maybe she’s brushing her hair, or tying the ribbon for her stocking —that would be nice. And out in the hall, some man will probably kiss Miss Weitz good-bye again—yes, I believe those are their lowered voices now, and that is his cough. Others are coming out now, their doors opening and closing so variously, too many to sort out. Why sort them out? And now the factory whistle is telling the [...]

POETRY: Our Lost Angels by Scott Cairns

September 9, 2017

Ages ago, clouds brought them near and rain brought them to our lips; they swam in every vase, every cupped palm. We took them into ourselves and were refreshed. For those luckier generations, angels were the sweet, quickening substance in all light, all water, every morsel of food. Until the day the sun changed some, as it had, took them skyward, but thereafter the clouds failed to restore them. In time, streams gave up every spirit, and the sea, unreplenished, finally became the void we had feared it would become, the void we had imagined. And, as now, clouds brought only rain, and the emptied rain brought only the chill in which we must now be [...]

POETRY: My Amusing Despair by Scott Cairns

September 3, 2017

I confess that I am not a modern man. As a modern man I am a little flawed. Raimundo is much too happy. Many times, more times than I would care to admit to you, I have suffered from this unforgivable lack, this absence. All around me, poets tearing at their bright blouses, tearing at their own bare flesh. All night long—their tortured singing. And still I have suffered an acute lack of despair. Why is that? Is Raimundo stupid? Am I unfeeling? Doesn’t the bleak weight of the north ever pinch my shoulders? Well, no, not often. And when it does—which is not very often—I can’t help feeling a little detached. As if I had somewhere else to go. As if I were a spectator, a dayworker watching the slow clock. I have an interest in [...]

POETRY: The Theology Of Doubt by Scott Cairns

August 23, 2017

I have come to believe this fickleness of belief is unavoidable. As, for these back lot trees, the annual loss of leaves and fruit is unavoidable. I remember hearing that soft-soap about faith being given only to the faithful—mean trick, if you believe it. This afternoon, during my walk, which I have come to believe is good for me, I noticed one of those ridiculous leaves hanging midway up an otherwise naked oak. The wind did what it could to bring it down, but the slow learner continued dancing. Then again, once, hoping for the last good apple, I reached among bare branches, pulling into my hand an apple too soft for anything and warm to the touch, [...]

POETRY: Adventures In New Testament Greek—Nous by Scott Cairns

August 19, 2017

You could almost think the word synonymous with mind, given our so far narrow history, and the excessive esteem in which we have been led to hold what is, in this case, our rightly designated nervous systems. Little wonder then that some presume the mind itself both part and parcel of the person, the very seat of soul and, lately, crucible for a host of chemical incentives—combinations of which can pretty much answer for most of our habits and for our affections. When even the handy lexicon cannot quite place the nous as anything beyond one rustic ancestor of reason, you might be satisfied to trouble the odd term no further—and so would fail to find your way to it, most fruitful faculty untried. Dormant in its roaring cave, the [...]

POETRY: A Recuperation Of Sin by Scott Cairns

August 13, 2017

I suppose we might do away with words like sin. They are at least archaic, not to mention rude, and late generations have been pretty well-schooled against the presumption of holding anything to be absolutely so, universally applicable, especially anything like sin which is, to put it more neatly, unpleasant, not the sort of thing one brings up. Besides, so much of what ignorance may have once attributed to sin has been more justly shown to be the end result of bad information, genetic flaw, or, most often, an honest misunderstanding. And I suppose sin’s old usefulness may have paled somewhat through many centuries of overuse by corrupt clergy pointing fingers, by faithless men and women who have longed more than anything for a more [...]

POETRY: Reason by Scott Cairns

August 2, 2017

It could be a late night phone call, or a note you find troubling the bed. It could be a telegram you can’t help going back to, but something has died, or has left you, and you can’t remember which. You do know that you sit alone, that you have ten strange fingers, and that something whistles in your lungs. Odd, the way a face hangs so heavily, and can seem to pull you over, can seem to pull you down. If your hand were to change, become something altogether different, say, a grip of flowers, or a club of dirt, you might understand the strangeness, might say out loud, There, now that’s the problem; something’s changed my hand to [...]

POETRY: Evening Prayer by Scott Cairns

March 27, 2017

And what would you pray in the troubled midst of this our circular confusion save that the cup be taken away? That the chill and welling of the blood might suffer by His hushed mercy to abate, to calm the legion dumb anxieties as each now clamors to be known and named? The road has taken on, of late, the mute appearance of a grief whose leaden gravity both insists on speed and slows the pilgrim’s progress to a crawl. At least he’s found his knees. I bear a dim suspicion that this circumstance will hold unyielding hegemony until the day. What would you pray at the approach of this late evening? What ask? And of [...]

POETRY: Disciplinary Treatises—(4) The Communion of the Body by Scott Cairns

October 19, 2016

The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother. (Bonhoeffer) Scattered, petulant, argumentative, the diverse members generally find little, nothing of their own, to offer one another. Like us all, the saved need saving mostly from themselves, and so they make progress, if at all, by dying to what they can, acquiescing to this new pressure, new wind, new breath that would fill them with something better than their own good intentions. Or schemes of community. Or their few articulate innovations in dogma. What the Ghost expects of them is a purer than customary will to speak together, a mere willingness to hear expressed in the fragmentary figures of one another’s speech the mute and palpable [...]

POETRY: Setting Out by Scott Cairns

September 28, 2016

Pilgrim: What is it that you do here? Monk: We fall, and we get up again. In time, even the slowest pilgrim might articulate a turn. Given time enough, the slowest pilgrim—even he—might register some small measure of belated progress. The road was, more or less, less compelling than the hut, but as the benefit of time allowed the hut’s distractions to attain a vaguely musty scent, and all the novel knickknacks to acquire a fine veneer of bone- white dust, the road became then somewhat more attractive, and as the weather made a timely if quite brief concession, the pilgrim took this all to be an open invitation to set out. [...]

POETRY: Adventures In New Testament Greek—Metanoia by Scott Cairns

August 24, 2016

Repentance, to be sure, But of a species far less likely to oblige sheepish repetition. Repentance, you’ll observe, glibly bears the bent of thought revisited, and mind’s familiar stamp —a quaint, half-hearted doubleness that couples all compunction with a pledge of recurrent screw-up. The heart’s metanoia, on the other hand, turns without regret, turns not so much away, as toward, as if the slow pilgrim has been surprised to find that sin is not so bad as it is a waste of [...]

POETRY: Idiot Psalm 10, by Scott Cairns

June 15, 2016

—a psalm of Isaak, breathed beneath the chirp of evening swallows O Hidden Hand upholding all wrought works now flourishing before us, O Mad Architect of exuberant abundance, of flora both sweet and acrid, and lo, of all furred fauna frolicking the field, both the mild and the less so, baring tooth and claw and, lo, so often leaving in their wake so many tufts of plumage, tattered fur. O Great Zookeeper attending all such critters in Your ken, both microscopic and immense, the countless little fishes, our dear array of water mammals, yea, and this our great and lumbering leviathan fathoms deep, invisible. O Most Secret Agent of our numberless occasions, please also mitigate the ache attending all of the above. [...]

ART: On Making The Martyrdom Of Saint Polycarp — Writing the True Icon by Scott Cairns

January 16, 2014

From The Image (The parts of the oratorio are: Prologue; Scene I – At the stadium; Scene II – A bedroom in a farmhouse outside of Smyrna; Scene III – The kitchen in another farmhouse nearby; Scene IV – On the road to Smyrna; Scene V – At the stadium) When a friend asked if I’d mind his passing my contact information along to a J. A. C. Redford, he explained that J. A. C. was looking for a librettist for an oratorio on the life of Saint Polycarp.  My first – unuttered – response was something like, “Sheesh, good luck with that.”  In a subsequent email, my friend outlined the project, wised me up about J. A. C.’s many prior successes, and got me thinking about the possibility of giving this [...]

HEALING: Letting Go by Scott Cairns

July 26, 2012

from The End of Suffering More than a hundred years ago, a chronically afflicted Emily Dickinson observed something of pain’s curious effects and aftermath.  “After great pain,” she wrote, ” a formal feeling comes.”  Her poem continues: The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs— The still Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’ And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’? The Feet, mechanical, go round— Of Ground, or Air, or Ought— A Wooden way Regardless grown, A Quartz contentment, like a stone— This is the Hour of Lead— Remembered, if outlived, As freezing persons, recollect the Snow— First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go— In Dickinson’s poem, the human [...]

POETRY: Two Takes On The Psalms — Poems by Cliff Ashby and Scott Cairns

July 11, 2012

Latter Day Psalms 1 Somewhere there is Grace, Lord, Was I not told it as a child When the sound of the sparrow Filled my heart with delight And the rain fell like friendship on my head. Now the call of the cuckoo Cannot calm my aching heart And my soul is tormented with fear. Have mercy, Lord, for I have travelled far Yet all my knowledge is as nothing. My days are numbered. Time titters As I stumble down the street. Forgiveness, O forgive me, Lord, Close my critical eye Take me to your breast For how else may I die. 2 The tree waves in the wind But does not break unless The bough is over-burdened. When spring disrupts the dead days Buds, leaves, and birds praise God In song and silent sound. The dead dock, stiff With last year’s pride, [...]