Saturday 26 September 2009

Patrick Donnelly: two poems on prayer

Inspired by Brad's weekly Sabbath poetry segment, I thought I might occasionally post a poem here on Sunday.

This week I've been reading Patrick Donnelly's collection, The Charge (Ausable Press 2003). Many of Donnelly's poems take the form of psalms and prayers: prayers about friendship, beauty, same-sex desire, sickness, death; prayers of sorrow and gratitude; prayers about dying friends and living with HIV. (Donnelly is himself a gay man living with HIV.) But his writing is not angst-ridden or introspective; it is tender, fragile, questioning, charged with joy and belief. And his reflections on prayer are often deeply moving. Here are two poems from the book:


Why, when the ferocious beauty that steers this world
has never braked for any cry of mine,

do I find myself making again, toward You
who will always do just as You please,

these motions with my lips and hands and knees,
trying to gentle Your vast wheel off the rails?

My friend is sick in the lymph behind his heart,
a monk, a teacher, Your servant, who loved You so.


When the heavens and the earth
are snapped away like a painted shade,
and every creature called to account,
please forgive me my head
full of chickpeas, garlic and parsley.
I am in love with the lemon
on the counter, and the warmth
of my brother’s shoulder distracted me
when we stood to pray.
The imam takes us over
for the first prostration,
but I keep one ear cocked
for the cry of the kitchen timer,
thrilled to realize today’s cornbread
might become tomorrow’s stuffing.
This thrift may buy me ten warm minutes
in bed tomorrow, before the singer
climbs the minaret in the dark
to wake me again to the work
of thought, word, deed.
I have so little time to finish;
only I know how to turn the dish, so the first taste
makes my brother’s eyes open wide—
forgive me, this pleasure
seems more urgent than the prayer—
too late to take refuge in You
from the inextricable mischief
of every thing You made,
eggs, milk, cinnamon, kisses, sleep.


roger flyer said...

this is beautiful, courageous stuff.
thanks to patrick and ben.

Anonymous said...


(BTW: The word verification for this comment was, aptly, 'Priest')

Anonymous said...

Ben--thanks for your interest and close reading. Just one comment--be careful not to conflate the speaker of the poems with the author. Poets are just as capable as fiction writers of making stuff up.

Warm regards,
Patrick Donnelly

Ben Myers said...

Hi Patrick: many thanks for getting in touch. And I do take your point about the difference between the poems and the author's biography. I once heard someone remark that Bob Dylan would have to live a thousand lives if all his songs were really about himself! (NB: after an email exchange with Patrick, I've also made a small amendment to my biographical comment in the post.)

I also asked Patrick when his next book would be out: unfortunately it's not till 2012; but it's being published by Four Way Books. You can also hear him reading a selection of his poems at From the Fishouse.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Patrick and Ben. Just what I need of a Sunday.

kim fabricius said...

Following on from Patrick's comment, in Salley Vickers' The Other Side of You (2006), one character, reflecting on the art of Caravaggio, observes: "a real artist knows the other side of himself better than the side he's in at the time. You don't paint as you are; you paint as you're not. But you only know what you're not through knowing what you are."

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