Poetry Friday: “Divine Wrath”

Bird on branchMultiple members of my family live with chronic pain, which is why I’m always arrested by writers who don’t let God off the hook for painful experiences, who question suffering more closely. Can we know who is ultimately responsible for suffering? Does suffering have a purpose (and if it does, why does it so often feel senseless)? Most importantly, how do we move through pain and cause less of it ourselves? The narrator of this poem shows pain reducing us to our most animal selves—like “a dog who’s been beaten”—and yet we, unlike animals, are able to ask our owners: “Why do you beat me?” On one level, that question sits on the page like an unanswered cry to the heavens, recalling Job. On another level, we’re encouraged to aim this question at ourselves in the mirror—because it seems possible that if we are divinely inspired, we are capable of our own forms of “divine wrath.” What I love about this poem is that, in the end, the act of questioning helps us transcend the need for answers. The perpetrator and victim dissolve into each other in one shocking prayer: “May whoever hurt me, forgive me.”

—Tyler McCabe


“Divine Wrath” By Adélia Prado

When I was wounded
whether by God, the devil, or myself
—I don’t know yet which—
it was seeing the sparrows again
and clumps of clover, after three days,
that told me I hadn’t died.
When I was young,
all it took were those sparrows,
those lush little leaves,
for me to sing praises,
dedicate operas to the Lord.
But a dog who’s been beaten
is slow to go back to barking
and making a fuss over his owner
—an animal, not a person
like me who can ask:
Why do you beat me?
Which is why, despite the sparrows and the clover,
a subtle shadow still hovers over my spirit.
May whoever hurt me, forgive me.

Translated from the Brazilian Portuguese by Ellen Doré Watson

 

Adélia Prado is one of the foremost poets of Brazil, praised both in literary circles and the mainstream media. The author of six books of poetry and six of prose, Prado was praised byVeja (Brazil’s Newsweek) as “a writer of rare brilliance and invincible simplicity.” The Alphabet in the Park: Selected Poems of Adélia Prado, translated by Ellen Doré Watson, was published by Wesleyan in 1990.

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Peace, My Animal

Mice

“Benedic, anima mea,” I say each night to the mouse that lives behind my desk. I know what the phrase speaks of a soul, but “animal” often has more meaning to me than “soul.” Occasionally I quote Ada Limón’s poem “The Long Ride”: How good it is to love live things, even when what they’ve done is terrible. Her poem refers to a horse that killed its rider when spooked; my benediction forgives the droppings I find next to my paints each morning. In my more ill-tempered moments, I kick the desk before going to bed and hiss, “I’m an island of mercy, mouse.”

Because I am. It’s not that I can’t kill an animal. It’s that I overthink, gather information, and turn it over in my mind, especially when that information unsettles or intrudes. The consequence of so much information seeking is that I hold strange things in my heart, fall in love whenever I’m frightened.

I’m not frightened of the mouse. Given the right opportunity, I’d be willing to kiss its little ears right off. But I’m troubled by its intrusion into my space, by the fact that a living being is running about while I sleep. The mouse is one more thing in a long list of things I can control, one more thing after which I have to clean up. [Read more…]

The Mercy of Sickness before Death

Just so you understand: I am dying. I am in the end stage of metastatic prostate cancer, and after six-and-a-half years of close association with the disease, I have another six months to two years to live. That probably sounds exhibitionistic, but I don’t mean it to. Nor am I fish­ing for pity. Truth is, I’d sooner have your laughter.

Man says, “I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but I am going to fight it with everything I’ve got.” “My money’s on the cancer,” his friend says. Find me that friend.

When it is incurable, as mine is, cancer always wins in the end, but no one—I mean, no one—wants to hear any such thing. The preferred message in our culture is the sentimental one of hope. Hope is not, however, what the terminal cancer patient needs. Even if you believe in miracles, you cannot hope for one—not the way you hope the car’s skid comes to a stop before the cliff’s edge.

“By definition,” C. S. Lewis writes, “miracles must of course inter­rupt the usual course of Nature,” but if they were as common as mosquitoes in summer they wouldn’t be interruptions of the usual. [Read more…]


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