From 'At the Grave of Teilhard de Chardin' by Daniel Tobin


Let the inhabitants of the rock sing…
Isaiah, 42:1


In this river’s perpetual haste I am already always
arrived, always already departed, the constant
wanderer among the hosts of different worlds,

arrow and mark, the course through which I make
things to make themselves, everything irreversible,
the syntax in the enzyme’s shape, the atom’s charges

composing from within into a grammar of things—
autocatalysis of particle into molecule into cell
until the eyes form the way swirls form in water,

patterns risen out of patterns, until the patterns
desire to know. This sweeping out of savannahs,
over continents, across steppes—their driven waves—

attests the spur: my own long indigent venture on.
Take this one with his kit-box, his tools, the pressed
moons of bread he keeps to offer Mass, he’s shuttled

from Auvergne to Egypt, Sussex to Belgacoum,
has barged the Huang-ho, mule-trained the Gobi,
yet he knows all of space “is a veil without a seam.”

Though now he looks from his museum window
at the cedars along the Jardin des Plantes—again
Paris, in autumn, his favorite season, his specimens

on shelves in the room next door, books, oak desk,
a prospect of mind of widening scope, planetary,
sky-bent like that antelope horn, pearled, spiraling.


(Celestial Mountains)

Inside the great mirroring eye of my Heavenly Lake
I regard the wide ocean of my sky reaching out
along the glacial massifs and crystal heights of me,

God Mountain, Lord of the Spirits, Victory Peak
unfolded from the riven folds of Paleolithic faults
to ascend in watercourses, snowmelt tongues of ice,

network webs of streams and moraines that decline
to steppes, forests, redstarts and ringtails in the drafts
where underneath from their own pivoting sights

spread valleys of apricot and bitter apple, roe-deer
in migration where, an instant ago, the foragers
came, dissimulating to Silk Road and trade route

east to west, west to east, sun-up and sun-down,
along the slow-shifting continent’s ethereal spine.
This modern band encamped by the desert’s edge

near the lamasery, the only road ahead blocked
with corpses and animals, talk together of God
whom the priest calls a choice between Yes and No

that no one can turn from—as the war rages on,
and far from my ridge the sandstorms bear down
to blind their caravan, ditched against the banks.

Out of entropy comes uplift: at the utmost height
my crystal pyramid reddening in sunlight; below,
his big hand open like a flower to free the wheels.


About the Author:

Daniel Tobin is the author of nine books of poems, including From Nothing, winner of the Julia Ward Howe Award, The Stone in the Air, his suite of versions from the German of Paul Celan, and most recently Blood Labors, named one of the Best Poetry Books of the Year for 2018 by The New York Times and The Washington Independent Review of Books. His poetry has won many awards, among them the Massachusetts Book Award and fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. His critical and editorial works include Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, Awake in America, The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, and To the Many: The Collected Early Works of Lola Ridge. His most recent work is On Serious Earth: Poetry and Transcendence. He teaches at Emerson College in Boston.

Image: Julie Laurent: Gobi, 2011 (CC)

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