I touch the trees,
I give them pleasure;
room to room,
sky to sky,
we stage hidden scenes
as bells sing and linger
in our orchard arms
Do colors exist?
Like our first deep kiss
In your car near the park
In the dark dark dark?
Did you ever see
Bright colors in me?
Is love a new past
That pretends it can last?
I know I once knew
Bright colors in you.
But how real were the real
Red feelings I’d feel?
That full crimson pain
Still hides in my brain.
Did the fire touch you
Whose eyes burn blue?
I owe everything to every unkept garden
and every torn poem
and lost pen.
I owe that bitterness
in the laugh of men
with fair hands
and unconscious reasons.
Even those whose hate
drenches fields, demanding crop,
scarce coin and admiration.
I owe the ones before me
who did not fear to speak too strong,
or praise too far
the throngs of distant, rhyming stars.
I owe everything to long nights alone
and to long nights alone
I owe everything to a big black dog
who taught me the dark
drooling obedience to joy.
I owe every little pain
that bruises the peach or rips the pit,
every open throated moan
we yearn to hear and surely won't,
every half a cry
and well-hid weeping.
And though it may only make
the smallest dent in that debt,
I owed something somewhere
to make all this for you, for us.
"God breathes on the vintage pages
as I read."
So says Mary Angela Douglas.
For many modern readers it would seem odd, perhaps even disconcerting, to come across a poet who sincerely and unapologetically offered up their poems to God. After all, we say, God is merely a stand-in for the unknown, a primitive superstition to be outgrown. This is the 21st century! we know so much more, so much better now…don’t we?
This is the type of arrogance we’ve come to expect, even from our artists: the measuring-stick arrogance that shuts off any grand or divine possibilities.
And so it is that poets of today, if they praise at all, are more likely to offer up their poems in the name of one group or another, some abused pigeons somewhere, or the experience of the idiosyncratic individual: the marginalized brought on stage, defiant, to give voice to their struggle. Which is a fine thing, this giving voice. We all suffer. We are all restricted. We should speak. And listen.
But who suffers more? Who is most restricted? Such poets of today want to know, and seek to remedy by speaking the language of restriction. This type of poetry is eagerly gobbled up by the many highly-qualified judges of today, where awards and indignation is justly, very justly apportioned. The unjust past is brought into the stark light of the unjust present, as if injustice could cure itself through self-torture.
Ah, but what about the other poets, the poets of forever, the poets of light? What do they say? What do they want to know?
Mary Angela Douglas is such a poet. Her poetry says, if there is restrictions in life, there is no restriction here, and all you need to know is God. And to be clear, for Douglas, this is the Christian God. Through experience of Him, restriction is transcended.
POETRY IS NOT A CONTEST
The poet declaims our folly before humbly stepping aside—then an alternative, the numinous, can wriggle its way into the reader. It’s as if one’s wandering through a vast and loving landscape, where hurricanes are mere trifles blown into being by angels for better kite-flying, and a lifetime of injustice and pain is just a useful, minute-long lesson preparing us for eternity.
This isn’t to say Mary denies the world’s suffering. She is acutely aware of it. Her website: angelidicuoremare.blogspot.com is dedicated “To the Russian Poets”--"And most of all, to the poet from the former Soviet Union who, dying, in prison, wrote his final poem in his own blood on the wall: the single word, "Hope"."
This is far removed from “a competition of herds”. Here is Mrs. Douglas lamenting the current state of poetry:
How has it come to pass that in a free country poetry, as well as all the art forms, has come to be regarded as important ONLY to the degree that it represents a conversation about social issues? When I think of the incredible, jeweled sweep, breadth and depth of feeling, imagination and beauty of poetry especially in the English language for centuries and see it reduced in our time virtually to only a repository of political will and polemic, I COULD WEEP.
It’s sad, but true. So many of today’s poets have politics lodged in the throat, and it makes for garbled song.
Mrs. Douglas is not a literary critic in any strict sense of the word, but there are few individuals today who care as passionately about poetry. If indignation is expressed on occasion it’s the indignation of a child who’s favorite doll has been ripped to shreds by a pack of bullies. Well, indignation is the small price you pay for valuing something worth valuing, and seems especially small when compared with access to the kingdom of childhood.
NOW WE ARE CROSSING THE PINK PART OF THE MAP
We can’t stay in childhood forever, or in beautiful poetry or music, but that doesn’t mean we can’t visit regularly. Mary visits on a daily basis; leaving poem after poem, windows into the transcendent, for some providential reader to pass through.
Like Rilke and Rumi, two other beloved poets of God, she shuts her doors on no one, litterateur and layman, heathen and Christian, each can appreciate this work, woven with delicacy and passion, not despite its sincere spiritual crying out, but because of it.
Douglas is a testament to the fact that fame and accolades, while entirely fine in their own right, are entirely unnecessary. For the lucky poet, divine poetry is enough, connection to beauty and the infinite is enough.
Chivalry Is Not Dead Came Over The Rattling Wires
For Mary Angela Douglas writing poetry is a sacred vocation; perhaps one can hope for the return of more individuals like her and “the young men fervently schooled to learn/their chivalry in turn/before the decimating wars”.
Heaven knows we could use them.
We’ll end with a few lines from her remarkable elegy to the pianist Van Cliburn, Where Is The Beautiful Kingdom Where You Were. Speaking on Van Cliburn’s critics, those “snipers at Beauty”, she asks:
what have they dreamed into leaves and flowers recently
It is enough. More than enough.
this would come again--
blackberries held in her hands
and your veins' dance
seeming too painless
and too close
to a perfect start.
You can live like a grave,
you can die to your weakness.
The valor of my heart
outside your body.
How? don't ask.
Should you? certainly not.
don't think you have strength
but I would take you
if you'd ask.
I can't instruct you kindly
and your life would light more magic
than you could bear.
Bless your chances,
And know you can only go
if the one with the blackberries
shares my name.
Can you see?
I come for both of you
We'll build bridges, as if that helps, then go.
Twin tongues will bring us that always slow sin
Of wandering from no to yes to no
Among silent soliloquies of skin.
Lost, and fond of failing, we can still see,
Like a child born in a land of giants,
Awkward poses of immortality.
Sipping dew from the blushing elements,
Why talk of flowers? Tulips? I can wish
And you are young, and will grow younger still.
My hunger sleeps in streams and dreams of fish
Below arced stones we hung against the hill.
What does it take to tame the fawning youths?
A dictionary and a thousand truths.
Nathan Woods, editor/overlord