Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sermon, Now Encrypted

If you're going to like poetry, you've got to get in the habit of reading it out loud. Then even when you don't read it out loud, you hear it in your head as though you were, and the words and meanings resonate the way they should if you're going to like it.

Because I hear poems out loud, I'm a complete sucker for sermon poems. In the back of my mind, I'm hearing the sonorous tones of MLK, Jr. or Jesse Jackson (the latter sometimes reading Green Eggs and Ham in a sermonic voice) or even Robert Duvall in The Apostle. My favorite sermon poem, of course, is Howard Nemerov's "Boom!" But I found one I like hearing almost as much recently, and it's ever-so-much-more-up-to-date, Ander Monson's "Sermon, Now Encrypted":

After passing through the box
that churns our text into scrambled digit strings--
the veil that separates us from our secrets
as indented, magnetic on all our hard drives
and Zip disks, we have found our way unto
the bottom of the stack. People, consider this
an instruction unto you to go home and clean scum
from your blenders, clear your Internet Explorer caches,
and expel the browser cookies like a sickness
into the majesty of the shredder or the trash.
We do not need to keep these things close to us;
they are not our names, identities, nor are they addresses
through which light or product might find its way to us.

There is no halfway house back from sin.

There will be no grinning in the crowd.

There is not a land beyond this one when
the screen has cleared and our lives have been
lifted away like a spider net is from a set of ferns,
unfurling.

Stanch your laughter and the bloodflow from your cuts.

What we need here is a tourniquet
to stop the daily intake of information
or calcium in the form of milk.

Give away your USRDA.

What we need is to reduce the accidental deaths
of too-long stowaways on transatlantic flights.

Let us think of the parable of the man
who tried to hide himself in the recession
into which the landing gear of the Airbus A320
leaving Amsterdam for New York was meant to close.

Let us consider the shape of the constellations we have made
among the stars.

There will be no more coughing.

There will be buy-one-get-one-free in the ever-after.

There will be galaxies collapsing for everyone who's present
at the cleanup from the after-party, after-prom, and after-after
celebration.

Let us take no for an answer only this one time.

Let us dispose of all our husbands' collective dated aftershave
in the toilet or in the sink. It will not haunt us from the drain.

Let us grieve for those who have left us for warmer cultures
or for other, younger partners.

Let us grieve for the pretenders to the throne, those other balls
of paint or twine or rubber bands or anything that can be wound,
those hundred-foot Paul Bunyans dotting the Midwest,
strung with sadness, strung with stories, worry, glory.

Let us grieve for those whose passwords are their pets'
or maiden names, or other easily-guessed items such as words
from the dictionary.

Let us find our way back to what light there is for us remaining.


Don't you just love the certainty of this poem? My favorite lines are "There will be no grinning in the crowd" and "There will be no more coughing." And I do like the impulse to "grieve for those who have left us...."

How many of us feel certain enough about anything to preach a sermon on it? (For those of you in the U.S., a lesson on yesterday's election?)

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like the certainty, but I'm not crazy about the poem.

I would be more than happy to give a sermon on the stupidity of thinking that cutting arts & music and increasing class sizes to 40.

-lemming

Anonymous said...

Sorry - hit wrong part of the screen - stupidity of thinking that cutting a & m and huge classes are acceptable.

Jeanne said...

Lemming! You've come back to the fold! Yeah, I could also preach a sermon on cutting public school art and music funding. My level of certainty would suffer, though, from the doubt that it isn't at least partly a publicity stunt. Not having any more art club or a fall play at MVHS gets a little more attention than other cost-conserving measures.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I laughed out loud thinking of green and eggs as a sermon. The poetry I have enjoyed the most is the poetry that I have heard out loud.

permanentquivive said...

I heard Ander Monson when he came to Gambier. It was a couple of days after Gary Gygax (the inventor of Dungeons and Dragons) had died, and the poet spent much of his time humorously ruminating on his (mis-)spent youth playing the game. So, I can't help but read this poem in a slightly deadpan voice. He reminds me a lot of the actor/comic Zach Galifianakis.

Jeanne said...

Permanent: What a day! Both my lambs come back to the fold!
Deadpan sounds about right for this. I wish I'd heard him when he was here.

Jeanne said...

Nicole, most people who love poetry seem to have had it read out loud to them when they were young. And I do love that Jesse Jackson bit! I was kind of amazed to find it on YouTube; it's so old.

readersguide said...

I like the part about the aftershave, but I'm in a righteous throwing away mood at the moment.

readersguide said...

And, have a great time in Iowa. I hope she likes it!

FreshHell said...

Hmm, well I left a comment earlier but I guess blogger didn't like it.

Jeanne said...

Readersguide, If there's any kind of certainty I like, it's the kind that tells you what to throw away.
Last week I threw away a cardboard box, and this week I wanted it. Of course, since I have an already-too-large collection of cardboard boxes in the basement, I found one that would do almost as well!

Yes, Iowa. It's a college visit for Eleanor. Also, I'm going to see their Writing Center.

FreshHell, it's not just you. Blogger seems to be a little beyond its capacity these days. I've seriously contemplated switching to WordPress, but there are issues--it thinks I already have an account, and I can't figure out why or how to disabuse it of the idea.

I've started copying my comments before I try to post them on blogger blogs--that way I still have a copy if it disappears, as happens all too often (once is too often, of course).

Harriet M. Welsch said...

I'm partial to "it will not haunt us from the drain." Because I'm pretty sure there are some things that do haunt us from the drain.

Jeanne said...

Harriet, yes. You have had a more recent drain haunting. I still remember when my kids had toddler flashlights and were with me in the basement hauling buckets of storm runoff that came up through the drains in our basement floor. The smell can never be completely eradicated, at least from human memory!