POETRY: Two Takes On The Psalms — Poems by Cliff Ashby and Scott Cairns


Latter Day Psalms


Somewhere there is Grace, Lord,
Was I not told it as a child
When the sound of the sparrow
Filled my heart with delight
And the rain fell like friendship on my head.
Now the call of the cuckoo
Cannot calm my aching heart
And my soul is tormented with fear.
Have mercy, Lord, for I have travelled far
Yet all my knowledge is as nothing.
My days are numbered. Time titters
As I stumble down the street.

Forgiveness, O forgive me, Lord,
Close my critical eye
Take me to your breast
For how else may I die.


The tree waves in the wind
But does not break unless
The bough is over-burdened.
When spring disrupts the dead days
Buds, leaves, and birds praise God
In song and silent sound.

The dead dock, stiff
With last year’s pride,
Leans unwillingly in the gale.

My heart, Lord, is unyielding.
My joints are stiff
The knuckles of my knees
Refuse to bend.
The knife is at my neck,
My back breaks.

I will say my matutinal prayers
From a crippled position,
Perhaps the Lord will hear?


I lived among lewd men
Beneath the Crouch End clock
Waiting for God to speak.
But my ears were dull
And what my brain received
My mind misunderstood.
So I took my mean heart to the hills,
Beside the Palace of Alexandra
Gazed on Barbican and grieved.
Lord speak to me in the morning
Or the night will be everlasting.
Now all the dogs of Dewsbury
Bay about my heels
And the foul water of the Calder
Weeps into the sea.


On the estate, Lord, the people
Take counsel one with another
And in the public house
There is lamentation.
The cost of living soars
Like wild duck rising
After morning feed.
Man has neither means nor meaning.
The cry of the young in the street
Rouses a protest in the market place.
What shall I do, Lord?
Though I bring my sad soul
And place it at Your feet,
My mouth is bitter, for fear
Infects my hand and heart.
The pit of hell yawns wide
Before my floundering feet,
I slip, I slide, I fall,
I try to grasp a skylark
But it flies south for summer.
My mind is melancholic,
I cannot praise my maker.

(Cliff Ashby)

Idiot Psalms


A psalm of Isaak, accompanied by Jew’s harp.

O God Belovéd if obliquely so,
dimly apprehended in the midst
of this, the fraught obscuring fog
of my insufficiently capacious ken,
Ostensible Lover of our kind—while
apparently aloof—allow
that I might glimpse once more
Your shadow in the land, avail
for me, a second time, the sense
of dire Presence in the pulsing
hollow near the heart.
Once more, O Lord, from Your enormity incline
your Face to shine upon Your servant, shy
of immolation, if You will.


A psalm of Isaak, accompanied by baying hounds.

O Shaper of varicolored clay and cellulose, O Keeper
of same, O Subtle Tweaker, Agent
of energies both appalling and unobserved,
do not allow Your servant’s limbs to stiffen
or to ossify unduly, do not compel Your servant
to go brittle, neither cramping at the heart,
nor narrowing his affective sympathies
neither of the flesh nor of the alleged soul.
Keep me sufficiently limber that I might continue
to enjoy my morning run among the lilies
and the rowdy waterfowl, that I might
delight in this and every evening’s intercourse
with the woman you have set beside me.
Make me to awaken daily with a willingness
to roll out readily, accompanied
by grateful smirk, a giddy joy,
the idiot’s undying expectation,
despite the evidence.


A psalm of Isaak, whispered mid the Philistines, beneath the breath.

Master both invisible and notoriously
slow to act, should You incline to fix
Your generous attentions for the moment
to the narrow scene of this our appointed
tedium, should You—once our kindly
secretary has duly noted which of us
is feigning presence, and which excused, which unexcused,
You may be entertained to hear how much we find to say
about so little. Among these other mediocrities,
Your mediocre servant gets a glimpse of how
his slow and meager worship might appear
from where You endlessly attend our dreariness.
Holy One, forgive, forgo and, if You will, fend off
from this my heart the sense that I am drowning here
amid the motions, the discussions, the several
questions endlessly recast, our paper ballots.


Isaak’s penitential psalm, unaccompanied.

Again, and yes again, O Ceaseless Tolerator
of our bleaking recurrences, O Forever Forgoing
Foregone (sans conclusion), O Inexhaustible,
I find my face against the floor, and yet again
my plea escapes from unclean lips, and from a heart
caked in and constricted by its own soiled residue.
You are forever, and forever blessed, and I aspire
one day to slip my knot and change things up,
to manage at least one late season sinlessly,
to bow before you yet one time without chagrin.

(Scott Cairns)

2 Comments on POETRY: Two Takes On The Psalms — Poems by Cliff Ashby and Scott Cairns

  1. Wayne Mclaughlin // July 11, 2012 at 5:17 pm // Reply

    Wowlelujah! Reading, I worshipped.


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