Sunday, March 22, 2009

Surely/ Surlily

Fine Point (12-22-2008)
by John Updike

Why go to Sunday school, though surlily,
and not believe a bit of what was taught?
The desert shepherds in their scratchy robes
undoubtedly existed, and Israel’s defeats—
the Temple in its sacredness destroyed
by Babylon and Rome. Yet Jews kept faith
and passed the prayers, the crabbed rites,
from table to table as Christians mocked.

We mocked, but took. The timbrel creed of praise
gives spirit to the daily; blood tinges lips.
The tongue reposes in papyrus pleas,
saying, Surely—magnificent, that “surely”—
goodness and mercy shall follow me all
the days of my lif
e, my life, forever.

from “Dialogue” (1929)
by Martin Buber

I no longer know how from that I came to speak of Jesus and to say that we Jews knew him from within, in the impulses and stirrings of his Jewish being, in a way that remains inaccessible to the peoples submissive to him. “In a way that remains inaccessible to you”— so I directly addressed the former clergyman. He stood, I too stood, we looked into the heart of one another’s eyes. “It is gone,” he said, and before everyone we gave one another the kiss of brotherhood.

final verse of “Sugar Baby”
from “Love and Theft” (2001)
by Bob Dylan

Your charms have broken many a heart and mine is surely one
You got a way of tearing a world apart, love, see what you done
Just as sure as we’re living, just as sure as you’re born
Look up, look up - seek your Maker – ‘fore Gabriel blows his horn

from screenplay for “Doubt” (2008)
by John Patrick Shanley

FATHER FLYNN: There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. And I want to say to you: Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Swelling the Rout

1) To an Athlete Dying Young, by A. E. Housman (1867)

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

2) Ex-Basketball Player, by John Updike (1954)

Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.