Scott Cairns

Ειρήνη
            —poem for my mother

I knew that she was dying.  She
also knew, had said as much, just
some moments before her final
words to me.  The several nurses
returned every hour or so
to note my mother’s labored
progress.  Arvo Pärt’s Alina
sweetened the room.  I gave her yet
another sip of water, smoothed
her cooling brow, and studied her
bright face, her throat’s diminished pulse.
When my voice would let me,
I said aloud my only prayer.
Her last words were not to me.  She
raised her arms, and made a final
plea, saying roughly take me home.

 

 

 

Of Late, Our Climate
                                 —after Stevens

Behold, ephebe, the sun quakes sinking down
into the cool Pacific’s mute sublimity, and calls
to mind the golden peony now coloring
the brilliant bowl of the mind’s clear water.
Do you sense the water’s trembling?  Do you
swoon?  The theater has been bereft of late
of any save the tragic character.  Consolation
lay, for the moment, in the lovely Labrador
spinning in the sand, even if the beach
recedes, even if the cool Pacific daily swallows
precious ground.  Ephebe, the fray is yet approaching.
Do you suppose you are equipped to meet
that storm?  The night and all its long familiar
darkness gathers first behind you, then extends
to fill the vision’s scape and scope.  The scop
lays down his pen, and leans into the stillness
incrementally absorbing that distance
mistaken heretofore as firm impediment.

 

 

 

Archaeology: A Late Lecture

Debris and caked accretion keep
the past interred, until one takes
the spade, and makes a start to find
amid the several strata some
encouragement, some clue to how
we’ve come to be, have come to be
—belatedly—thus.  As we are
at present also somewhat caked
in varying degrees of grit,
we find with every shovelful
of artifact a mirror now
evincing just how far we have
not come.  Every decade falls,
and, therefore, yet, it falls to each
and every one of us to grip
the spade, to lean into the dig.

 

 

 

Honor

Honoring my mother, I have christened
my boat Ειρήνη.  Honoring my dad,
I keep a crab pot on the bow, two poles
upright adorning the solid stern.  Here,
afloat, honoring the home my parents
chose to build for me, honoring their gifts,
I drift amid late days meandering
these straits, the ebb and flow of just such salt
passages as they once floated in their day.
Of a given morning, I too set out
among our stone and coarse-sand beaches, pleased
by the swelling Sound, attended by a wash
of vivid memory.  I almost see
their bright faces leaning in to bless my
quiet loll among the several islands
hereabouts, where peace is both profound
and ever beckoning of what seems now
an ongoing conversation with them both,
and also with the God who has seen fit
to draw me home to calm these final days.

 

 

 

Beyond Knowing
            —η ειρήνη του θεού η υπερέχουσα πάντα νουν

The peace I hope to know is that strange peace
           surpassing knowledge, that deep peace
one finds most often in the brief descent
            that drops the pilgrim to his knees.

Abandoned at the bottom of the well
            the dear belovéd son might still
uplift his eyes to witness through his tears
            the calm obtaining mid the stars;

in the sea beast’s hollow gut, the duly
            chastened prophet might yet extend
his arms accepting the embrace that serves
            to prove a new serenity;

thrown by burning men into the furnace
            the three astonished youths might stand,
refreshed, wrapped in cool vapor, made
            quiet by the presence of another.

And here, amid the daily tumult, we
            might still descend into what calm
lies waiting in the bower of the heart,
            a stillness, ever beckoning.

 

 


Poet’s Bio: Scott Cairns is Curators’ Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Missouri and directs the low-residency MFA program at Seattle Pacific University. His most recent collections are Idiot Psalms (2014) and Slow Pilgrim (2015). His spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge, was reprinted in 2016.

Image: Nicora Gangi, The Call. Pastel, 15”x15.”

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