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Irish Coast

How long do we wait for love?
Long ago, we rowed on a pond.
Our oars left the moon broken—
our gestures ruining the surface.
Our parents wanted us to marry.
Beyond the roses where we lay,
men who loved men grew wounds.
When do we start to forget our age?
Your husband and I look the same.
All day, your mother confuses us
as her dementia grows stronger.
Your boys yell: Red Rover!
We whisper your sister’s name
like librarians; at last on the list,
her heart clapping in her rib cage,
having stopped now six times,
the pumps opened by balloons,
we await her new heart cut
out from the chest of a stranger.
Your old house settles in its bones,
pleased by how we are arranged.
Our shadow grows like an obituary.
One of us says: “It is getting so dark.”
Your children end their game.
Trees stiffen into scrapbooks.
The sky’s shelves fill with stars.


“1 Corinthians 13” by Spencer Reece.

I can’t understand Spencer Reece. His CV: Born in Hartford, Connecticut; Master of Theology, Harvard; Master of Divinity, Yale; Missionary to the Nuestras Pequenas Rosas orphanage in San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Missionary to the homeless and ordained priest of the Episcopal Church in Madrid, Spain; Manager of a Brooks Brothers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It’s that last bit which is, as Gore Vidal would say, the joker in the deck. French cuffs and Windsor knots hardy pair with homeless shelters and Honduran slums. But then again, rarely does religious poetry move with such a frantic, almost manic, energy, so perhaps Reece is capable of registering and giving voice to an usually wide spectrum of human experience. I once wrote, in a stroke of mild hyperbole, that Mark Jarman (a reader of this blog and my favorite living religious poet) wrote like T.S. Eliot in a fever dream. There is certainly something feverish to “1 Corinthians 13” as well, though Reece seems to be less in a reverie and more in a careful though entranced plod through the wilderness of memory.

When I first found it, I was so moved by this poem that I reread it about six times and immediately ordered the containing collection, Reece’s The Road to Emmaus. I think this poem is the strongest in the book, though Emmaus also contains “The Clerk’s Tale”, a poem so intricate and strangely stirring that The New Yorker, in an unprecedented editorial move, devoted a full back page to it. Oh yeah, and, coincidentally, it’s about a guy who works at a men’s clothier at the Mall of America in Minnesota. I suggest you give it a slow and careful read.

By the way, in the 13th chapter of his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul says, among other things:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing…

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

I took the above picture in Ireland.