Kushitic Closure

This poem is inspired by memories of a lovely and kind-hearted Ethiopian university student who lived with my family when I was ten. She introduced us to berbere and doro wat, and taught me to appreciate gastronomy from Africa’s horn. She had a beautiful smile, she had a Wilson Pickett record and she initiated me into the mysteries of pop music and the radio. Her name was Adeye. This was in the mid-70’s just before the Marxist coup which brought in Haile Mengistu Mariam. We lost touch with her long ago. The poem is also inspired by times I have been offered coffee among Ethiopian people, who have a beautiful ceremony involving frankincense when they partake.

One last Kushitic dream—be patient: once I was at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in the Egyptian mummy room (a Coptic one-liner there for you). I was chatting with a beautiful Eritrean security guard among the crypts. Mysteriously, everyone cleared out and for a short while it was only the two of us, surrounded by opened sarcophagi in the dimly-lit room. For a moment I thought I was speaking with the eternal spirit of some princess who had just climbed out of one of them !




I long to know that land in spirit
where the highlands meet the desert.
Where there’s faith and coffee served
with ceremony still observed.

The white-robed land, where priests intone
in levite ritual ‘round the ark.
A land in clouds of frankincense,
whose past is bitter, strong and dark. 


I’ll enter where the rock is carved
in cruciform epiphany;
where Midian’s curtains hide the starved

whose hunger feeds conspiracy. 

I’ll walk the wilds of Meroë
all ruined in the desert sands,ethiop cross
where beauty wails and ululates
as silver gleams on amber strands.

Her kings and peasants come to naught
when princes’ plots are overthrown.
Her blameless name was never bought;
her faith in Christ is scribed in stone.


Queen Sheba’s golden sepulcher – 
your modern guises can’t suffice
to quench the fire of God and spice.

Davidic land—like calvary
your power purifies the heart
through struggle, prayer, and ancient art.

An Art Of Poetry

To Vincent Buckley

Since all our keys are lost or broken,
Shall it be thought absurd
If for an art of words I turn
Discreetly to the Word?

Drawn inward by his love, we trace
Art to its secret springs:
What, are we masters in Israel
And do not know these things?

Lord Christ from out his treasury
Brings forth things new and old:
We have those treasures in earthen vessels,
In parables he told,

And in the single images
Of seed, and fish, and stone,
Or, shaped in deed and miracle,
To living poems grown.

Scorn then to darken and contract
The landscape of the heart
By individual, arbitrary
And self-expressive art.

Let your speech be ordered wholly
By an intellectual love;
Elucidate the carnal maze
With clear light from above.

Give every image space and air
To grow, or as bird to fly;
So shall one grain of mustard-seed
Quite overspread the sky.

Let your literal figures shine
With pure transparency:
Not in opaque but limpid wells
Lie truth and mystery.

And universal meanings spring
From what the proud pass by:
Only the simplest forms can hold
A vast complexity.

We know, where Christ has set his hand
Only the real remains:
I am impatient for that loss
By which the spirit gains.


James McAuley (1917–1976)

Somos Un Pueblo Que Camina

Somos un pueblo que camina, y juntos caminando podremos alcanzar
Otra ciudad que no se acaba, sin penas ni tristezas, ciudad de eternidad.
Somos un pueblo que camina, que marcha por el mundo, buscando otra ciudad;
Somos errantes peregrinos en busca de un destino, destino de unidad
Siempre seremos caminantes, pues solo caminando podremos alcanzar
Otra ciudad que no se acaba, sin penas ni tristezas, ciudad de eternidad . . . 
Sufren los hombres mis hermanos, buscando entre las piedras la parte de su pan
Sufren los hombres oprimidos, los hombres que no tienen ni paz ni libertad
Sufren los hombres mis hermanos, más tu vienes con ellos y en ti alcanzarán
otra ciudad que no se acaba, sin penas ni tristezas, ciudad de eternidad . . .


Danos valor siempre constante, valor en las tristezas, valor en nuestro afán.
Danos la luz de tu Palabra, que guía nuestros pasos en este caminar.
Marcha, Señor, junto a nosotros, pues sólo en tu presencia podremos alcanzar
Otra ciudad que no se acaba, sin penas ni tristezas, ciudad de eternidad.

Dura se hace nuestra marcha, andando entre las sombras
De tanta oscuridad, todos los cuerpos desgastados
Ya sienten el cansancio de tanto caminar.
Pero tenemos la esperanza de que nuestras fatigas al fin alcanzarán,
Otra ciudad que no se acaba, sin penas ni tristeza, ciudad de eternidad.