Bill Coyle's poems have appeared widely in magazines and
anthologies, including the Hudson Review, The New Criterion,
the New Republic, and Poetry. He is a translator from the
Swedish, and his versions of the poet Håkan Sandell have appeared in PN
Review and Ars Interpres and are forthcoming in the anthology
The Other Side of Landscape. Mr. Coyle teaches in the English Department at
Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts. He lives in Somerville,
The God of this World to his Prophet
Go to the prosperous city,
for I have taken pity
on its inhabitants,
who drink and feast and dance
all night in lighted halls
yet know their bacchanals
lead nowhere in the end.
Go to them, now, commend,
to those with ears to hear,
a lifestyle more austere.
Tell all my children tired
of happiness desired
and never had, that there
is solace in despair.
Say there is consolation
in ruins and ruination
beneath a harvest moon
that is itself a ruin,
comfort, however cold,
in grievances recalled
beside a fire dying
from lack of love and trying.
from The God of This World to His Prophet, 2006, Irving R. Dee; first published in The Hudson Review
i.m. Sten Söderström
The dead, we say, are the departed. They
pass on, they pass away, they leave behind
family, friends, the whole of humankind—
They have gone on before. Or so we say.
But could it be the opposite is true?
Now, as I stand here in the graveled drive
at moonrise, unaccountably alive,
I have the sense that it is we, not you,
who are departing, spun at breakneck speed
through space and time, while you stay where you are—
intimate of dark matter and bright star—
and watch the brilliant, faithless world recede.
from The God of This World to His Prophet, 2006 Irving R. Dee; first published in
from the Swedish of Bertil Malmberg
It struck me always as odd
that anyone could love
the distant, omnipotent God
we enthroned above.
Though it was thought that he
is as mild as glorious,
still, he meant less to me
than a destitute mother does.
None but a human soul
can warm my own
none but a soul that has known
none but the being that despairs,
captive in suffering's ring
—none but the heart that bears
all manner of baffling thing,
some of it folly, and some
dark wisdom, upon reflection.
—How could one ever come
to love perfection?
The heart feels nothing for your power, no,
and nothing for the princes who
in legions throng your court to worship you.
High emptinesses from your mantle flow.
You are, were, and shall be the God of might,
and by your will's command and choice you lead
the constellations of the year and write
the secrets of the ages overhead.
So scripture and tradition both attest.
But it may be that you are more
removed from the stern image some adore
than is the north from south, or east from west.
From absolutist rule of time and space,
from lonely majesty no good can come.
If cloudless glory is your royal home
I neither want, nor pray to have, your grace.
But are you powerless, one eternally
with all that wanders, hunts, and dies and dies,
and should this unity comprise
your godhood and your immortality;
and if you are the voice that strains to speak
in wind and rain and in the anxiousness
of frightened hands as they caress
a loved one's pale, almost transparent cheek;
and if you reconcile, as is my hope,
time, love, decay, and groanings of despair—
then it is after you I grope
and you, my God, whom I seek everywhere.
Godhood that hunts and slays,
shadowy, on the run,
—while the centuries, brief as days,
like tatters and leaves are spun
—to me you seem
an unending woe:
now like a wandering gleam,
now like a howling you go.
You are the wild
that brushes by
Yes, you are the longing and cry—
but also the ever mild
the ever secure…
In your poverty's miserable cliff
where the chill winds sniff
where the rain and mist never cease
and the bats huddle close to each other,
there the soul rests in nameless peace
—however the fates protest—
as the little ones rest
with the she-wolf, their mother.
from The God of This World to His Prophet, 2006, Irving R. Dee
On a dead street
in a high wall
a wooden gate
I don’t recall
ever seeing open
and I who happen
to pass this way
in passing glimpse
a garden lit
by dark lamps
at the heart of it.
from The God of This World to His Prophet, 2006 Irving R. Dee; first published in Dark Horse
Consider the ravens: for they neither sow
nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn…
So Jesus, far away and long ago,
instructed his friends in holy unconcern.
They mustn’t have had squirrels in Palestine
(note to self: look this up). In any case,
he omitted them—their clutching sense of mine,
mine being obviously out of place.
I like to sit here watching the local squirrels,
The way they gather nuts, bury them, hide
The spot with dirt and twigs, the way their quarrels
chase them around and up a maple’s side,
The way that they come closer when I call,
And even when I don’t—the way they stand
begging—year round but more so in the fall—
prepared to take the food right from my hand.
One will eat each nut as it’s doled out;
another will eat one and bury two;
another takes a nibble of each nut,
pauses and considers what to do.
Consider the squirrels of the park, they gather
their nuts and steal their neighbor’s when they can.
Their plumpness presages the colder weather.
What careful, small, grey creatures. How like man.
When common sense requires that we fill
our stores against the time of scarcity,
how can He tell us in good conscience, Fool,
this night thy soul shall be required of thee?
Treasure in heaven? Closer at hand, the ravens
stalk glassy eyed through leaves of fallen gold,
and homeless men lie sprawled out under heaven’s
immense capacity for rain and cold.
from The God of This World to His Prophet, 2006, Irving R. Dee
In winter, once the ice on the lake is safe,
a group of local ice-fishers build a town
with houses, streets, a store, a tavern—
all the necessities—then move out there.
By day they wait for nothing they sense or see
until a line goes taut like a sudden thought,
and someone lifts a flash of silver
out of an opening in the surface.
With darkness, things are otherwise. Then the lights
that glitter on the shore they have left behind
amount to a new constellation
born in the lowliest part of heaven;
then sometime neighbors head to their tavern, where,
because they know the season is all too brief,
they stay up later than they mean to,
playing guitar, trading stories, drinking,
and feeling how expansive it strangely is
to have it all come down to this makeshift town
then, closer, to this point, this tavern
crowded with music and light and voices.
Past closing, now. The bartender, bound for what,
for the time being, is home, recollects the stars.
Out of a pocket near his heart he
fishes a flask of the local moonshine.
There is a dark below and a dark above;
The fish are darting stars, while the stars are schools
that drift so glacially their slightest
movement plays out over generations.
It is a private vision. Around him sleep
his customers and friends in their home-spun homes.
He takes a measured swig of liquor,
grimaces, grins. It is nearly daybreak.
from The God of This World to His Prophet, 2006, Irving R. Dee; first published in The New Criterion