Poetry- like music- comes in so many flavors. There are poets (like John O'Donahue) who are infinitely merciful and consoling, dispensing grace with every lilting syllable. There are others- like Rilke or David Whyte- who name our silent inward struggles with courage. There are those like Mary Oliver who call our attention to the fragile and magnificent beauty strewn recklessly around us, or Rumi, who offers an invitation to celebrate the soul while tap-dancing barefoot. I adore all these poets. Every once in awhile, though, I can use a dash of a poet who wryly offers the strong bitter draught of painful truth. I now add Scott Cairns to the short and salty list of contemporary poets who write in the tradition of the old Hebrew prophets, calling us to accountability and fearlessly saying what needs to be said, holding up a mirror to our cultural warts and flaws. Here is a bracing poem, an eye-popping chaser that will purge your palate of the lingering sticky-sweet aftertaste of Christmas carols...
Possible Answers to Prayer
by Scott Cairns (b. 1954)
Your petitions — though they continue to bear
just the one signature — have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties — despite their constant,
relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value — nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.
Your repentance — all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment — is sufficient.
Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.
Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you --
these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passion.