by Eric Rosenbloom
copyright 2001

On tired feet, with aching knees, the hips
Pull at clenched muscles, and the heart
Rushes to keep up, struggles against the cage,
Which sways to another rhythm than the wheeze
Of choked lung and clogged artery, struggles
To overcome the mocking beat — for who
Defines all rhythm if not the heart — but here
It is no longer master, music itself
Is moving the blood, the heart can only let it flow,
The cells recalling song that they were born to,
Their very life behind each beat, each beat
Behind the memory of life they were born to —
Systomy dystomy, the knees bend, the hips sway,
The feet leap against the pain, and the dance goes on.


Recall the story of a monk, a man of God,
Who suspected that prayer and ritualized work
Served more to show him his own mind
While outside the cloister, brutality and suffering,
Starvation, disease, and wars went on,
Storms of destruction from man and nature
Mocked the ideas of justice and mercy and a wise god.
Millions of souls each year, in ice and in drought,
In war and in work, in age and in youth,
Babies at play, men and women at love,
Lords, ladies, peasants, fools, the fat and the starving,
The strong and the weak, those within as much
As those without the walls, millions each year
To feed the flame of eternal sacrifice.
What has it bought? Who is selling it?
Is God’s mercy only in the cloister, a peace
Bought with the blood of those without?
Recall the story of the monk who took his God outside.

He walked towards the northern seas, his feet
Blistered then bleeding then crusted and hard as leather shoes,
Through village and farm, chased from enclosed park,
Sharing with nameless others the scrapings of some baron’s bowl,
Wandering with these gray and tattered masses,
More lonely here than in the purposed solitude behind him,
Tramping ever onward into shorter days,
Through barren hills of icy wind-swept rocks
Where bony plants were crazy holding on and surely
No man could thrive — he made his home,
Here he cried, Let God’s mercy here be proved.

He built no house, welcomed the elements
To do what they would to his body. Soon
He was wasted to bone on the meager scroungings
Of bracken and berries and the merciless blasts
Of ice and sun and wind, but year after year
He went on, learning the long rhythms
Of this remote earth, the sea birds
Who visited each year, the seals at the shore,
The course of the stars, their nightly circle
On the sun’s unending path,
The tiny flowers that every year
Answered the sun’s enticing cry
And spread their seed with a new hope.
The monk became like one of the grasses,
Shrinking through the years to a wisp of himself,
Sustained he supposed by God but ever in pain,
Year upon year: watching generations of seals
Enter the world, live, and disappear,
He longed for death and wondered
At this mercy — living
By the rhythms of a weed
And not allowed to die.

In his mind he started walking.
After many days he came upon a path
And turned west to follow it.
After many days he saw a girl in a field
And she came to help him to her home.
He did not understand her words
But he went with her, the strong hand
Under his arm: she was almost carrying him.
She kept talking, without a shadow
Of the fear he remembered in country people —
Whatever had changed, he now was glad,
Happy to have met this confident girl,
Entering her family’s own house.
She laid a blanket over a bed of heather
And brought him to lie down.
Another blanket over his wasted body,
And wondrous sleep was his.


What messengers carry my thoughts and prayers
To what intelligence, where — this paper,
Do I write to stuff it in a wall unread, lost
Even to myself — surely I was hoping
You would read this, who else, where else
But such ears and eyes for human words,
Your tongue in answer, a tender caress.

[ rosenlake.net/er/poetry ]