The first time I shared a poem by Marie Howe was exactly a year ago. [Update: Apparently also last January.] Until I picked up her latest collection, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, I had forgotten just how evocative and emotionally wrenching her work is. The poem below, however, belongs less to her penchant for the heart-breaking than to her incisive insight into the self-contradictions of the spiritual life. One might even call this a poetic riff on Paul's rocking ship of desires in Romans 7. Enjoy.
- - - - - - -
By Marie Howe
Standing next to my old friend I sense that his soldiers have retreated.
And mine? They're resting their guns on their shoulders
talking quietly. I'm hungry, one says.
Cheeseburger, says another,
and they all decide to go and find some dinner.
But the next day, negotiating the too narrow aisles of
The Health and Harmony Food Store -- when I say, Excuse me,
to the woman and her cart of organic chicken and green grapes
she pulls the cart not quite far back enough for me to pass,
and a small mob in me begins picking up the fruit to throw.
So many kingdoms,
and in each kingdom, so many people: the disinherited son, the corrupt counselor,
the courtesan, the fool.
And so many gods -- arguing among themselves,
over toast, through the lunch salad
and on into the long hours of the mild spring afternoon -- I'm the god.
No, I'm the god. No, I'm the god.
I can hardly hear myself over their muttering.
How can I discipline my own army? They're exhausted and want more money.
How can I disarm when my enemy seems so intent?