"Who among us can say
and expect him?"
(Read the complete poem below.) This piece is interesting for me for several reasons. It's dated, 1978, and located, Astoria Oregon, so I already know some things about its context. It was my first summer fishing, and I remember the day well. It was certainly overcast and rainy. I had walked from the T-Bird docks at the west end of Astoria, all the way through town to the Boat Basin docks at the other end of town, and I was supposed to be talking to skippers about deckhand jobs. A thankless and anxious task. Eventually good things happened to me: Gene Freeze took my offer to work the first trip for free; I'd do anything needed doing, I said. Clean, cook, shovel ice, pick shrimp... Gene, being a nice guy, not only gave me the shot, but after that first (wild and wooly) trip, he also said, I'll pay you a hundred bucks for this first trip, and I'll pay you a hundred dollars if you want to go out with us again... and that was the break I needed and I ended up fishing for five years and going to Alaska, and pulling up blue whale jaw bones, and catching a sea lion, but those are all other stories.
This piece is also interesting to me because the writer is so intent on his material - I mean he does not want to talk about fishing or boats or Astoria, he wants to talk about God-stuff, the piece is clearly god stuff - and I'm always interested in clues about Derek's God-stuff thing, and why he became a follower of Jesus, which would have seemed very unlikely to people who knew me then. It's interesting to try and sort out Derek's spiritual experiences... the "skywheel", "words of light", the title of course; something seems to have happened to him, and we wonder what it could have been. Mind you, this piece is twelve years before the Quakes at West Hills Friends reintroduced me to Jesus.
So we see the young poet at work making a poem out of his experience and out of his desire to make a poem... not necessarily the same thing. I see for one, that he really liked rhythm: read this out loud and hear the rhythms marching. I like the visual stuff - I mean I liked it when I wrote it and I like it now; the rain stirring up the puddle, like his feelings are stirred up.
I like the different voices in this one, too; similar but not the same, for example: the one voice tells us firmly that "He does not come in silks..." The next voice, maybe the same, asks the rhetorical question who can summon God? The answer being no one can. I do appreciate the poet's effort to express emotional authenticity, there in the last little bits; this poem is in its way about a love affair, and longing for the beloved who is ... not there... maybe to return at some point........
He does not come in silks, not in tongues of fire,
gone from me the skywheel,
words of light, leaving no bond
who could ever bind him?
I find myself in soiled workmans clothes,
hard hands toiling in rain…
Who among us can say
and expect him?
Memories churn at birdcalls
in a storm, my heart stirs
like silt in a puddle
when the rains belt down.
Oh, my friend, I have broken
all my promises to you
and still I call.