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Ordinary Time

for Jonathan Potter

With an appreciation for Bob Dylan and Walker Percy,
two quasi-writers who wanted nothing more than to write
wrote, and then found more than inadmissible hearsay.
Quintilian (as we’ll call one) thought it improbable
that Kierkegaard should also appear on the other’s page,
and in turn, the King of the Lake (as we’ll call the other)
was pleased to read about Ordet, Danish for “Word”,
the story of a man who read so much in that Churchyard
he fell out of time and thought himself the Son of Man—
a story difficult to comprehend, and ending in resurrection,
the end that has no ending, impossible to comprehend.

We are given the freedom to believe whatever we want,
and so we need a Korrektiv, an eternally balancing seesaw,
a once-in-a-zillion lottery ticket, a holiness of the ordinary,
with the quotidian details suffered in order to be cured—
saved, even, for faith is to know what cannot be assured.
Guessing is more fun than knowing. Love betters theory.

So, like those Christian monuments of late antiquity
that were built with statues taken from the empty temples
of exhausted deities—themselves the natural end
of a dedication to craft that belies a naïve faith in perfection—
let me borrow anything from I know not where, what or who
(Spokane, dreams, and Euclid, to name just three I do)
and chisel out a few more words about the last ten years
of the half century you have now been circling the sun.

For that is how long I’ve been able to call you a friend.
And since we celebrate your birthday, it should be obvious
that one of the themes here is time, and how it flows,
or doesn’t. With Augustine as our guide, we may wonder
where it all goes, or whatever might have been meant
by the phrase “In the beginning”, and if it was the Word
without which nothing ever could have been made,
how this Word could ever be heard, and then weighed.

Big questions aside, a lot of strange things happen in time,
the way it sometimes seems to speed up, or slow down,
or disappear entirely. Just because we’re in the thick of it now
doesn’t mean it’s so crowded that nothing new ever happens.
After all, it’s always happening, and it never repeats itself,
not really, so repetitions must include something besides time.
This is how I understand Percy’s parable of the peanut brittle,
first by way of your explanation, later by events themselves,
or recognitions contradicting coincidence and credible cause—
not credibile est, quia ineptum est, but certum est, quia impossibile.
Not I believe because it is absurd, but certain, because impossible.

With enough prayer and fasting, nothing will be impossible.
But unless we believe that some things absolutely cannot be—
the sun rising in the west, a rich man getting into heaven—
there would be no need for faith at all. Everything is a matter
of probability. But how can we measure anything against time?
If we wait long enough, mountains will be washed into the sea.
I’ll admit that if we had forever and a day, sooner or later
everything would come true.
                                                But then we do have our days,
and maybe that is why you could short-sheet a visitor’s bed
that would surprise me a few days later, and would only figure
it out some ten years on—because that is the nature of time.
As for backyards that perfectly abut, and that they did abut
we would discover fifteen years after—that simply took
a little more time. As for the nightmare of death and dying,
we know how in dreams time turns strange: seconds stretch
into decades. Years pass in a moment, or in the wrong order.
It’s all so damn unreliable.
                                            But why did I laugh so hard
when I realized the joke was on me? And how much did I
need a friend, never mind a neighbor, way back when?
Verily, verily, I had no clue. And there is no consolation
so great as the experience of life passed in ordinary time—
a walk through the woods and gardens of Manito park,
past fountains, and children on swings, and empty trees.

Nothing more ordinary than four o’clock on a Wednesday
afternoon. Should we then believe in God, or begin a quest?
Being a Christian is itself another way to ask the question.
Here follow a few more: if time is the fourth dimension,
can anything exist beyond it? Does it have a shape?
Might we just ask the burning bush if Yahweh has a face?
In asking, let us wonder at the ways we now are blessed.

For it is only with your help that I have seen shapes
that extend beyond the grave, or sub specie aeternitatis,
we say, embarrassed even by the idea of spiritual bodies.
Let us try to imagine again what we think we understand.
For the first dimension, think of an infinite number of zeroes
spinning in a perfect sphere, both everything and nothing.
In the second we meet forms such as complementary angles
(if not in the book of nature, they might be in the bible),
and in the third, if only the third—consider distant galaxies
or the double helix of DNA—there turns an endless spiral.

How else to explain a green thought in a green shade,
except as that state of equilibrium that happily occurs
whenever what happens is matched by what we think?
Less an achievement than a gift from the Ocean of Mind
to something like itself—a lake, maybe, and at bottom a King.
Green, the color of milfoil, and faded, fiberglass canoes,
of Washington state, if not its mixture of reds and blues.
Of youth and inexperience, as from one’s first cigar,
of fields of clover, and trees in the park, and a frog in a jar.
Of tattoos, new building codes, tequila and a slice of lime,
and the vestments worn before Lent, in Ordinary Time.

Comments

  1. Faves:

    a story difficult to comprehend, and ending in resurrection,
    the end that has no ending, impossible to comprehend.

    ****

    if it was the Word
    without which nothing ever could have been made,
    how this Word could ever be heard, and then weighed.

    ****

    I’ll admit that if we had forever and a day, sooner or later
    everything would come true.

    ****

    And there is no consolation
    so great as the experience of life passed in ordinary time—
    a walk through the woods and gardens of Manito park,
    past fountains, and children on swings, and empty trees.

    ****

    Here follow a few more: if time is the fourth dimension,
    can anything exist beyond it? Does it have a shape?
    Might we just ask the burning bush if Yahweh has a face?
    In asking, let us wonder at the ways we now are blessed.

    And the entire last stanza – Marvell allusion withal.

    Most excellent!

    Something about it reminds me of Herbert Morris, who I encountered once and can’t seem to shake – this in particular:

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1666210.What_Was_Lost

    Note, Mr. Potter, by the way, the first poem in the collection (scroll to table of contentment:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1582430640/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1582430640&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

    Happy birthday, Potter – and happy success, Finnigan!

    JOB

  2. Quin Finnegan says:

    Not the Latin, eh?!

    Thank you, JOB. You are very generous, as always … both the Morris recommendation are much appreciated.

    • Broderick Barker says:

      JOB farts in Latin; you can’t impress him that way. But what I want to know about are the tattoos.

      • Broderick Barker says:

        And yes, he belches Greek.

      • Quin Finnegan says:

        Oof. How much personal information to dole out in a (very public) poem is always a tricky question … you recall that Potter and I were in New Orleans for the opening of the Percy Center a day earlier than you? We had matching portraits of the Great One tattooed on our asses.

        • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says:

          I didn’t realize you all were such fans of Jackie Gleason — or that that was what he meant by ‘to the moon’.

  3. Splendid, Quin, thank you! Nice riff on the peanut brittle, old boy. The blending of high thought and homeliness reminds me of Eliot’s Four Quartets. But with a Jobean/Lowellian matter-of-factness that Eliot would stub his toe on to his own betterment. Truly honored. I need a cigar and a glass of whiskey for a ruminative re-rereading.

  4. Quin Finnegan says:

    My pleasure, Mr. Pot … apologies for the big reveal there.

  5. Big Jon Bully says:

    Don’t have the words for that great poem. So many beautiful and profound things converge. Thanks Man.

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