Suttree wiped his plate with a piece of bread and sat back. He fell to studying the variety of moths pressed to the glass, resting his elbows on the sill and his chin on the back of his hand. Supplicants of light. Here one tinted easter pink along the edges of his white fur belly and wings. Eyes black, triangular, a robber’s mask. Furred and wizened face not unlike a monkey’s and wearing a windswept ermine shako. Suttree bent to see him better. What do you want?

Cormac McCarthy. Suttree. Vintage Edition, 1992. p. 89. Originally published in 1979.

We have been having a near-biblical plague of miller moths in Amarillo lately. I am reminded of this scene from Suttree as I read at night hearing the dusty smack of a billion flittering bodies against the window, about the lightbulb, watching the shower of motes spilling from all the collisions. The news keeps saying they’ll all be dead in two weeks.

Anyway, throughout the book Suttree is haunted by a twin. He was born a twin to a stillborn brother; an Antisuttree reaches towards him from another life in the reflection of a glass door; a lamp reflecting in water becomes a zygote dividing into two cells with disparate wills; an othersuttree precedes him in an bedlam journey through an obscure wood. Suttree muses that the stillborn twin was carted off to Purgatory while Suttree himself was condemned to a terrestrial hell – an impenetrable divide like a pane of glass between the two: one living in the eternal pre-dawn light of Limbo and the other confined to the darkness of black inferno.

The moth, clearly anthropomorphized, is another twin. Suttree’s question, as he leans close to look, he and the moth peering at each other through the glass, is rhetorical. What do you want? The moth wants the light. He’s a supplicant of light for crying out loud. Has anybody in all of history seen a moth that flees the light?

And this is the frustrating thing for me when I read McCarthy: he is known for turning his imagination towards the darkness and not flinching, but each time there’s a hint of light – pre-dawn gray – in Suttree he shrinks away. I know he’s out to imagine the tragic, but each time it feels like a moth becoming aware and turning to leave the light. If he’s the twin confined to hell, then surely he has chosen it. If he’s writing the tragic simply as a warning, which the book ends with (Fly them), then ought there be some light – otherwise all warnings are to flee the dark for otherdark.

I don’t want callow optimism. I want light.

poetrysince1912:

The poet Christian Wiman is giving voice to the hunger for faith — and the challenges of faith — for people living now. After a Texas upbringing soaked in a history of violence and a charismatic Christian culture, he was agnostic until he became actively religious again in his late 30s. Then he was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable blood cancer. He’s bearing witness to something new happening in himself and in the world.

On Being

I’ve been stuck on Wiman lately. His essay Finishes: Ambition and Survival in his book of essays Ambition and Survival is a clear understanding of how to age as an artist (and better than Eliot’s appreciation of Yeats), but has been incredibly valuable to me as a trajectory for aiming a life of writing. Both his prose and his poetry are exemplary in living an engaged life; a life quiet enough to hear the disturbances that need to be quieted. And his style is remarkable; you can almost hear the rhizomes of thought feeling their way.

Here’s a link to an interview with Bill Moyers that has also been valuable.

Thomas is known for his incredulity and doubt, but I think it was less doubt and more what Paul called the “working out of your salvation with fear and trembling.” There must be trepidation when God expresses in a personal event that He is concerned for one singular person, even in the midst of a great crowd (the humiliation of grace and favor). Imagine Thomas’s fingers trembling in the spear wound. Look at Peter’s discomfort (turning his head) at witnessing the scene, perhaps because of his own fear and trembling.

The painting in process is by Jack Baumgartner, a farmer-craftsman-artist in rural Kansas, who I think captures the mystery of that simultaneous fear and comfort that attends faith. I like the fact that this work is in process, much like faith always is, but I look forward to the painting’s completion as I anticipate the completion of the good work begun in me. Until then, my fingers tremble in the wounds.

Horae Canonicae – Sext

W.H. Auden

I

You need not see what someone is doingto know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,that eye-on-the-object look.

To ignore the appetitive goddesses,to desert the formidable shrines

of Rhea, Aphrodite, Demeter, Diana,to pray instead to St. Phocas,

St Barbara, San Saturnino,or whoever one’s patron is,

that one may be worthy of their mystery,what a prodigious step to have taken.

There should be monuments, there should be odes,to the nameless heroes who took it first,

to the first flaker of flintswho forgot his dinner,

the first collector of sea-shellsto remain celibate.

Where should we be but for them?Feral still, un-housetrained, still

wandering through forests withouta consonant to our names,

slaves of Dame Kind, lackingall notion of a city

and, at this noon, for this death,there would be no agents.

II

You need not hear what orders he is givingto know if someone has authority,

you have only to watch his mouth:when a besieging general sees

a city wall breached by his troops,when a bacteriologist

realizes in a flash what was wrongwith his hypothesis when,

from a glance at the jury, the prosecutorknows the defendant will hang,

their lips and the lines around themrelax, assuming an expression

not of simple pleasure at gettingtheir own sweet way but of satisfaction

at being right, an incarnationof Fortitudo, Justicia, Nous.

You may not like them much(Who does?) but we owe them

basilicas, divas,dictionaries, pastoral verse,

the courtesies of the city:without these judicial mouths

(which belong for the most partto very great scoundrels)

how squalid existence would be,tethered for life to some hut village,

afraid of the local snakeor the local ford demon

speaking the local patoisof some three hundred words

(think of the family squabbles and thepoison-pens, think of the inbreeding)

at this noon, there would be no authorityto command this death.

III

Anywhere you like, somewhereon broad-chested life-giving Earth,

anywhere between her thirstlandsand undrinkable Ocean,

the crowd stands perfectly still,its eyes (which seem one) and its mouths

(which seem infinitely many)expressionless, perfectly blank.

The crowd does not see (what everyone sees)a boxing match, a train wreck,

a battleship being launched,does not wonder (as everyone wonders)

who will win, what flag she will fly,how many will be burned alive,

is never distracted(as everyone is always distracted)

by a barking dog, a smell of fish,a mosquito on a bald head:

the crowd sees only one thing(which only the crowd can see)

an epiphany of thatwhich does whatever is done.

Whatever god a person believes in,in whatever way he believes,

(no two are exactly alike)as one of the crowd he believes

and only believes in thatin which there is only one way of believing.

Few people accept each other and mostwill never do anything properly,

but the crowd rejects no one, joining the crowdis the only thing all men can do.

Only because of that can we sayall men are our brothers,

superior, because of that,to the social exoskeletons: When

have they ever ignored their queens,for one second stopped work

on their provincial cities, to worshipThe Prince of this world like us,

at this noon, on this hill,in the occasion of this dying.

Horae Canonicae – Terce

W.H. Auden

After shaking paws with his dog,
(Whose bark would tell the world that he is always kind,)
The hangman sets off briskly over the heath;
He does not know yet who will be provided
To do the high works of Justice with:
Gently closing the door of his wife’s bedroom,
(Today she has one of her headaches)
With a sigh the judge descends his marble stair;
He does not know by what sentence
He will apply on earth the Law that rules the stars:
And the poet, taking a breather
Round his garden before starting his eclogue,
Does not know whose Truth he will tell.

Sprites of hearth and store-room, godlings
Of professional mysteries, the Big Ones
Who can annihilate a city,
Cannot be bothered with this moment: we are left,
Each to his secret cult, now each of us
Prays to an image of his image of himself:
‘Let me get through this coming day
Without a dressing down from a superior,
Being worsted in a repartee,
Or behaving like an ass in front of the girls;
Let something exciting happen,
Let me find a lucky coin on a sidewalk.
Let me hear a new funny story.’

At this hour we all might be anyone:
It is only our victim who is without a wish
Who knows already (that is what
We can never forgive. If he knows the answers,
Then why are we here, why is there even dust?)
Knows already that, in fact, our prayers are heard,
That not one of us will slip up,
That the machinery of our world will function
Without a hitch, that today, for once,
There will be no squabbling on Mount Olympus,
No Chthonian mutters of unrest,
But no other miracle, knows that by sundown
We shall have had a good Friday.

Horae Canonicae – Prime

W.H. Auden


Simultaneously, as soundlessly,
Spontaneously, suddenly
As, at the vaunt of the dawn, the kind
Gates of the body fly open
To its world beyond, the gates of the mind,
The horn gate and the ivory gate
Swing to, swing shut, instantaneously
Quell the nocturnal rummage
Of its rebellious fronde, ill-favored,
Ill-natured and second-rate,
Disenfranchised, widowed and orphaned
By an historical mistake:
Recalled from the shades to be a seeing being,
From absence to be on display,
Without a name or history I wake
Between my body and the day.

Holy this moment, wholly in the right,
As, in complete obedience
To the light’s laconic outcry, next
As a sheet, near as a wall,
Out there as a mountain’s poise of stone,
The world is present, about,
And I know that I am, here, not alone
But with a world and rejoice
Unvexed, for the will has still to claim
This adjacent arm as my own,
The memory to name me, resume
Its routine of praise and blame
And smiling to me is this instant while
Still the day is intact, and I
The Adam sinless in our beginning,
Adam still previous to any act.

I draw breath; this is of course to wish
No matter what, to be wise,
To be different, to die and the cost,
No matter how, is Paradise
Lost of course and myself owing a death:
The eager ridge, the steady sea,
The flat roofs of the fishing village
Still asleep in its bunny,
Though as fresh and sunny still are not friends
But things to hand, this ready flesh
No honest equal, but my accomplice now
My assassin to be, and my name
Stands for my historical share of care
For a lying self-made city,
Afraid of our living task, the dying
Which the coming day will ask.