First Light Last

“You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.”
Flannery O’Connor


And did you really think there would ever come a time
when things would go as you’d dreamed they should?
That you—you!—could hold the reins of some phaeton-
fated Seven Thirty Seven as it whinnied and shrugged off
what you ordered it to do? You, poor forked thing, you
cursing as the plane bucked then nosedived down,
down and down into the unforgiving earth below?

Late January, Covid-killing time, and six below.
Sing it, pilgrim! Sputter the words out loud!
You’re in the bughouse now. Oh, yeah!
You’re in the bughouse now.

Remember that time, thirty years back, in those sea-
fungus-riddled pitchblack tunnel mazes of Fort Adams?
How a woman tripped and fell just behind you
and you turned to help her up again, even as the guide
and the others kept moving on, your wife among them,  
as she slid into the dark and disappeared, like some Eurydice?

Remember (ha!) the blank fear you felt as you moved
forward, leading the others nowhere, first turning right
then left, as you called out and the chambers echoed
the muffled sounds behind you and it hit you that you might
just be leading you and the others into a makeshift hell,
an underworld, where the lost enter, and then forever dwell.
Sing it, then, Homer, Hezekiah, Virgil. Sing!
Sing the desolation of those words.
You’re in the bughouse now.
Oh yeah, sick seer, sad soul,
You’re in the bughouse now.

Remember how you glimpsed that faint light
up ahead, then slowly groped your way down
the tunnel toward it, only to come up against that
small grilled window, that ignis fatuus, that dead end
that seemed to hold out hope, before it laughed
and mocked you? You, blind leader of the blind?  

And then, in that darkness, in that mocking hell
hole of a maze, as the groans and curses began to swell
again, a distant light flickered as our guide appeared
and we followed her, this way then that, until we reappeared
once more, thank God, into the dizzle-dazzling bluebell
light, as the others, my Eurydice among them, cheered.

Sing it! Sing the sacred saving words,
again and then again and then again.
De profundis clamavi ad te Domine....
Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord,
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Sing them from first light on into nightfall,
until the blessed dawn leads us home again.

From All That Will Be New: Poems (Slant Books, 2022) by Paul Mariani. Copyright © 2022 by Paul Mariani. Used with the permission of the author.