KR OnlinePoetry

Hymn

From the Kenyon Review, New Series, Summer-Fall 1996, Vol. XVIII, No.3/4

We are moving nearly at the speed of light but we do our jobs
           optician florist fruit vendor bum
the world is cut in half and we don’t know it black on one side
           white on the other new love arriving in microscopic doses
not through our skin not through shifts in the composition of
           the brain not through ingesting chemicals
spirit has ignited the human world which equals the square
           root of 82 the need for the face of God has overwhelmed us
           the need to kneel in a pool of mud
still responsible seated at our desks making a living serving
           populations of the earth
we still eat breakfast shower put on clean underwear tie our
           shoes check to see how our hair looks read the financial
           page the headlines drink one last mouthful of orange juice
           before we step into the street
sometimes we copy the palms of our hands on the office xerox
           machine while no one’s looking
sometimes we gaze out the window search other windows for
           cohorts but the glass is blind with sunlight
we are voyaging toward the one answer enshrined in our hearts
           for thousands of years the unheard urgent answer the end
           of our waiting
doctrine of immortality creed of the meaning of pain principle
           of the organization of matter theory of nature’s great
           trick of unconsciousness
until the mystery of being no longer haunts us
lean on no scripture for an understanding of this it is
           happening to you now
forget immaturity forget freedom forget familial wounds
without preludes of explication without verbal pointers
           even the phobia of self-knowledge tamed by this
           boundless power to fuel our phase in the history of
           existence
like pictographs on bone like the face of a squirrel like a
           finch’s innocent habits of quickness
we are close to the speed of light not feeling the least
           inversion of self or flicker of fear
prayer may be the cause and its enemy the arrogance of self-
           sufficient greed one man saving 80K of pennies another
           worth billions the hundred-year-oldw oman who lived with
           every newspaper she bought since the age of 16 tied in
           stacks to the ceiling until they covered the walls
citizens like those readying the cosmos for transubstantiation
           to instill the secret of time’s action and time’s
           opposite in the human heart wrecked by despair
I say unto you was uttered by someone something beyond us and
           The Lord is my shepherd but
you and the light will enact the presence of Messiah bring The
           Presence before us in a fusion of impossible needs
all things will look exactly the same nothing will change the
           way we live yet we will know how to bear it for the
           first time not Neitzschean redemption not Christian
           salvation not this or that system
liken it to those baffling moments of inner peace that
           simply happen or to the way seasons change or to the
           activity of clouds
think what it is to see a table hear a person’s voice eat
           drink walk enjoy yourself even buy a hat
the word eternal at last intrinsic to fact whatever form it
           takes trivial as eyelashes or dirt
think of the anguish of your hunger that has one object: to
           place you in the blameless hands of mercy

Kenyon Review logo
Stephen Berg founded and edited the American Poetry Review. His collections of poetry include The Daughters (1971), Grief (1975), In It (1986), New & Selected Poems (1992), Shaving (1998), and 58 Poems (2013). He taught at Princeton and Haverford College and served as a professor of humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. His honors and awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Pew Foundation. He received a PEN grant in translation and the Frank O’Hara Prize.