To My Daughter at the Approach of Her Birth

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dear Mayah Louise Wieck,

Your mother and brothers and I will call your name daily and more commonly than we take bread. And we’ll pronounce it with every inflection of emotion one can imagine, and some that we can’t yet because we haven’t met you and those emotions haven’t even begun to resonate in us. But each time we take your name in our mouths, I hope the meaning of your name sings.

Your name changed several times before we settled on Mayah. In fact, I
began this letter to an Evangeline, but that name wouldn’t stick. I still like the meaning of that name – a messenger of good news – but it didn’t sound right when we spoke it. It didn’t look right on the page. God must place some meaning in the sound of words which stirs us on another level than language. Something akin to music. I think that is true, although I don’t know why.

Your mother spent a while referring to you as Evelyn as well. The name
Eve is at the root of that word, which means mother. I wasn’t sure why she pushed so hard for that name. It’s difficult to imagine a newborn girl as a mother; however, I believe your mother sensed something that God was knitting into you.

Through the messenger and the mother, we have arrived at Mayah, which means “close to God” in Hebrew. We came to it through the sound. A small variation on Maya with a lingering breath at the end. I’m a little surprised there is a word that means this. There is no greater desire that I could have for you than to be close to God. I will confess that with each child I feel trepidation that I am bringing a child into existence and that God will forget them, or that He’d form their hearts in a way that held no longing for Him. I don’t know why. He’s always been faithful. But I know my incompetence. I know that if the task of your survival – immanent or transcendent, physical or spiritual – is left in my watch, then there is no hope. But there is a word and it was spoken thousands of years ago by strangers in strange tongues in an attempt to name a possibility: that someone might be close to God. In the history of things, the sound of that word has been found in our home. Your mother and I played with the rhythm of it for a few days. Offered it to your brothers and let them sound it on their clumsy young tongues. And then the meaning arrived. Mayah, you are close to God. That God offers this to anyone is a humiliating grace, and you will be a walking testament of His kindness and presence here. The possibility formed in a word: Mayah.

Your brother Clark has in his name the vocation of a scribe. I imagined him as the writer of Psalm 45; a man whose heart overflows with a pleasing song and whose tongue speaks the verses as though it were the pen of a scribe. Your brother observes, is moved, and records the works of God. But I see you elsewhere in the same Psalm. “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house…” That is a difficult thing for me to say before I have even met you. Daughter, to know in the seed of your conception that you will flower to forget me. But there is joy and gladness in your forgetfulness, for your memory will be overcome with desire for a king with grace poured on his lips; who rides victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness. These causes will be yours. These desires are already in your heart and God shall make their justification shine as the noonday sun, and I long to see your heart burst with desires fulfilled and a tree of life. In the place of your memory of me, of your people, will be your sons.

Perhaps that is why your mother was attached to a word which means
mother. To what or to whom will you be a mother? Another variation of your name is the Greek Maia. She was one of the Pleiades, now a constellation which indicates the early and late rains, but she was also the mother of Hermes: the messenger of the gods. Mayah, may your memory of me be trumped by the desire for your king, by the sons of your legacy, and may your sons all be messengers between God and men, messengers of peace and good news; princes in the earth searching out the matters of God, and may He cause your name to be remembered – mother-messenger, that God is close – remembered to all generations. May your approach bring the comfort of a timely rain.

Your king rides out victoriously with a sword upon his thigh, and you will
ride with him Mayah Louise: famous warrior. I now have two warriors in my brood with your brother Wyatt, who is brave-in-war. Will you be Joan of Arc? Or Deborah? Will you judge what is right? Will you be filled with visions of the kingdom-come and turn aside neither to the right nor to the left? The word fame has the sound of glory, and glory is a weight and substance. Even now as you gain substance in your mother’s womb, I pray that your eventual fame gain substance for the kingdom of heaven. That the sword girt upon your thigh for the cause of truth, meekness, and righteousness would be a plowshare in the hearts of men, sowing mustard seeds of the kingdom of heaven, and may that kingdom displace any earthly kingdom that I have errantly sown in your heart.

Already, Mayah Louise, I am dearly enamored, and the most that I could
wish for you is to forget your father’s house and be led to your king with joy and gladness.

May The Lord bless you and keep you,
and cause His face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you.
May He lift up His countenance on you
and bring you peace.

Dad & Mom

Ruins of Rome

Du Bellay in Rome

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You who arrive to look for Rome in Rome
And can in Rome no Rome you know discover:
These palaces and arches ivied over
And ancient walls are Rome, now Rome’s a name.

Here see Rome’s overbearing overcome—
Rome, who brought the world beneath her power
And held sway, robbed of sway: see and consider
Rome the prey of all-consuming time.

And yet this Rome is Rome’s one monument.
Rome alone could conquer Rome. And the one element
Of constancy in Rome is the ongoing

Seaward rush of Tiber. O world of flux
Where time destroys what’s steady as the rocks
And what resists time is what’s ever flowing.

from Les Antiquités de Rome

A note on Seamus Heaney’s “Du Bellay in Rome” by Paul Muldoon

Seamus Heaney’s translation of a sonnet by Joachim du Bellay (1522–1560), one of the last poems he wrote before he died this past August, is timely in several senses. Du Bellay’s witty engagement with paradoxes about permanence and immanence, fixity and flux, raises questions not only about those great themes but, coincidentally, about the nature of literary fame. Du Bellay is hardly a household name, yet his impact on Spenser and Shakespeare, to name but two renowned poets, is absolutely crucial. Seamus Heaney’s translation of du Bellay’s sonnet is all the more poignant, of course, given the fact that, shortly after completing it, he would himself become a victim of what Shakespeare terms “devouring time.” In the face of this terrible loss, we may take some comfort in our profound sense that, like the Tiber, Seamus Heaney’s work will continue to be a constant in our lives.

– See more at:

A note on this note on this poem from Seth:

In 2005, I went to Rome with some friends. I spent a few hours overlooking the Forum from a hill above the old Senate building and trying to write a poem. Ozymandias was all that came to mind. Perhaps I’ll return to Rome and recite this poem from those stairs. More likely, I’ll stay in Amarillo and see the two-way coastal rushes of traffic along I-40 and worry that the only stones that might’ve made monuments here were escorted off in topsoil in the thirties.


Toward the end it was difficult for him to work, and as the illness became protracted and the days were long, as it were, with complications, his spirits were often low. Perhaps the strong and daring, he said, don’t need him, but for me, as for David, who in the Gospel is always singing, there must be other ways to live.

Rowan Williams, “Advent Calendar”


He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Taylor Swift Trolls and the Lessons They Impart

Several years ago I posted an illustration by the artist Mark Summers that traced the artistic influence from Jonathan Swift to Taylor Swift ( I thought it was funny. It was early on. I didn’t quite understand tumblr. 

It is by far the most popular post in the history of this tumblr with 194 notes (which is paltry for most of you, I’m sure). It is still being reblogged 3.5 years later. I’d like to think that I post some things on here that are worth considering, but nothing as worthy as Taylor Swift. I guess there are people who just search for all things Taylor Swift and hoard the pixels of her likeness in their own little tumblrs.

I have also placed a disproportional amount of commentary about Cormac McCarthy which isn’t as popular as Taylor Swift-abilia, but in the end there’s no difference between a one-off joke about Swift and a hard-fought sentence about Blood Meridian. 

Plus, Taylor Swift trolls sure are friendly.



Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

Berkeley, 1968

—Czeslaw Milosz

Melville without Milton

Like Shelley and Blake, Melville was charmed by the individualism and heroic striving of Milton’s Satan, and he imbued Ahab with the same sense of outsized self-mythologizing. His rereading of Paradise Lost during the composition of Moby Dick significantly altered the novel’s meaning and mythic scope. The extraordinary fact is that as late as 1849 (Moby Dick was published in 1851), Melville had yet to conceive of Captain Ahab and was focused instead on the non-epic bildungsroman of a shipmate called Ishmael. Take Milton’s Satan away from Melville and you can forget about the earthshaking achievement of Moby Dick.

The Writer as Reader: Melville and His Marginalia by William Giraldi

It Was the Summer of ’69 (*1)

Begin here:

Christ is contingency, I tell her as we cross the railroad tracks and walk down the dusty main street of this little town that is not the town where I was raised, but both reassuringly and disconcertingly reminiscent of it: the ramshackle resiliency of the buildings around the square; Spanish rivering right next to rocklike English, the two fusing for a moment into a single dialect then splitting again; cowboys with creek-bed faces stepping determinedly out of the convenience store with sky in their eyes and twelve-packs in their arms. I have spent the past four weeks in solitude, working on these little prose fragments that seem to be the only thing I can sustain, trying day and night to “figure out” just what it is I believe, a mission made more urgent by the fact that I have recently been diagnosed with an incurable but unpredictable cancer…

– Wiman, Christian. My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. (Specifically Sorrow’s Flower). Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, New York. 2013. p. 16.

Then trace the river of language back:

While the Constabulary covered the mob
Firing into the Falls, I was suffering
Only the bullying sun of Madrid.
Each afternoon, in the casserole heat
Of the flat, as I sweated my way through
The life of Joyce, stinks from the fishmarket
Rose like a reek off a flax-dam.
At night on the balcony, gules of wine,
A sense of children in their dark corners,
Old women in black shawls near open windows,
The air a canyon rivering in Spanish.
We talked our way home over the starlit plains
Where patent leather of the Guardia Civil
Gleamed like fish-bellies in flax-poisoned waters.

‘Go back’ one said, ‘try to touch the people’… 

– from “4. Summer 1969”

– Heaney, Seamus. Poems: 1965-1975. (Specifically from North). Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, New York. 1987. p. 224-225.

If a person has read Wiman’s “Ambition & Survival: On Becoming a Poet” and doesn’t immediately go read Seamus Heaney, then she didn’t pay attention to Wiman’s (almost) imperatives. 

On another note, the allusion bears some digging. The “her” in Wiman’s essay (Sorrow’s Flower) is a woman Wiman had known in his youth. As the essay progresses we realize that he has taken some sort of retreat in middle-age as he has both come to faith in Christ, and as the essay says, been diagnosed with cancer. The woman on the other hand has recently gone through a divorce that essentially wrecked her faith. Brief recollections of their conversation carry the narrative of the essay. Wiman quite self-consciously realizes how abstruse (ridiculous, he says) his statement “Christ is contingency” sounds in the midst of her suffering – especially against the backdrop of his monthlong sabbatical he has taken to “figure out” what he believes. Who among us can take a month off of work to scribble a few paragraphs about something as cloudy as belief? And while people suffer. Hmph.

Wiman gets that sentiment though. And I think the allusion is intended here, not just as a flourish for description, but to embellish the irony of his errand. Like Wiman, Heaney’s narrator is on a retreat, but instead of spiritual matters, this voice has held up in a Spanish flat to study Joyce (who but a poet can afford such luxuries) while a revolution oppresses the natives from whom he’s renting. Someone tells him to go back and touch the people, but instead he retreats to the Prado and ends with a meditation on Goya. Wiman knows this; he hopes the reader does too.

I read a review of Wiman’s book wherein the reviewer criticizes Wiman for writing a memoir “full of God but quite empty of people.” I’d take the genre to task, but the criticism is misguided (*2) and for these purposes the Heaney allusion is informative: Go back and touch the people, the critic said; but the poet instead searches the flesh-rending brutality of history then moves to the nightmares of Time and Chaos. What does a poet do when confronted with such horrors? What does a carpenter do? Or a farmer? They fall back into the rhythms of their trade and craft examining what meaning their labors have provided in the past. So Wiman fills the book with fine meditations on poetry (there are 33 cited in the acknowledgements), writing “with fists and elbows, flourishing”, in Heaney’s words, “the stained cape of his heart as history charges." 

That’s pretty damn touching.

*1 – How much money would one like to wager on the fact that Bryan Adams was also alluding to Heaney’s poem?

*2 – The criticism is misguided because Wiman writes: "It is not meditative communion with God that I crave. What one wants during extreme crisis is not connection with God, but connection with people; not supernatural love, but human love. No, that is not quite right. What one craves is supernatural love, but one finds it only within human love.” – from Wiman’s essay “A Million Little Oblivions” p. 164.

Mary Magdalene Mistakes the Gardener

Genesis 3John 20

Listen, I’m no mad woman. I’ve been among you,
Reclined at your tables, you’ve broken my bread
you dolts. It’s true:
I entered the garden’s east gate and
ducked the bedolach boughs twisting in sinuous bark-lynch;
those timbers ice-broken over winter.
The footpath tangled in briars,
and there I caught my foot and
fell and tore my palms in the thorns that
received me.
I labored to lift me from the weeds
impish and clawing, gnawing
like teeth when the
gardener lifted me to these broken trees.
Then I regained my feet and clutched my bleeding hands
in the open limb wounds, blackening
with sap
invigorated by Spring.
The scent and tack
of bdellium gum flexing,
sealing my abrasions
sediment settling in finger-crease.
All I touched bears my dirtprint still.
See, there’s handprints on my knees
when I leaned to rest. There must
be handprints on his robes when
I groped at him to stay.
See, even now by the lamps of our dinner,
here in the coated creases of my hands
is the earth from which we draw this bread.
Here are the thorns and thistles.
Red and infected are the prints that bear them.
In the sweat of my face you can see
how I hid the tears of my weeping
and the streak where he wiped them away. 

Published in The Curator


One of my poems was published today at The Curator. You can read it by following this excerpt: 

The Curator is a web publication of the International Arts Movement, which aims have artists “create good, true, and beautiful artifacts as sign-posts pointing toward a ‘world that ought to be’.” I heard the artist and founder of IAM, Makoto Fujimura, say that our culture “ha[s] a language to celebrate waywardness, but we don’t have a cultural language to bring people back home." I’m proud to have a poem published in a place with a goal of reconciliation. It’s a good magazine. Take a look around while you’re there.

(I’m especially enjoying this essay about reading: Digging and Reading.