For those embroiled by the academic search for truth—who have suspended belief or lost faith or sought a new faith—the word is not doubt but hope, fierce and brave and full of anxious questions. A few poems today from beloved poetess Emma Lou Thayne.
“Pruning the Sage”
The sage has crept
through all the tangle
of the privet. It
nudges dry against
the aspen and the dogwood,
parching in the
cut the deadwood from
the sapless gnarls
that snap against
their loss, and
the first clean cut
brings mountains to
my hands, a pungent
stony hours above
the stream where
only wild, sharp sage
can grow. The rocky
path grates to crags
that must be climbed.
Who dares to grab
the elbowed sage and
swing across the granite
face to skinny footholds
laddering the sky?
Who will finger for
a ledge where rattlesnakes
lie green on gray?
Who’ll risk the snakes because the sage
gives arms to climb?
I prune. Dead
branches fall away
to open spaces
redolent of rattlesnakes
but wide enough
to bare four violets
“. . . in whom persuasion and belief
Had ripened into faith, and faith become
A passioned intuition.”
I don’t know why I know :
Believing goes so often skittering
From those who need and grasp the most;
Then what incredible (as always) Grace
Makes me its doubtful, easy host?
“Lake Powell: The White Death”
The canyon, now canal, was desert dry
For Escalante; Mormons dredged the dust
To reach the raging Colorado. High
Above it foliage crept through sandstone crust
To issue rivulets of roots that ran
Long lengths beyond themselves. Ingenious in
Their urgent, parched demands, they groped to fan
The arid miles and tap the river’s thin
Sweet bed. Today trees edge the water line,
Which inches close and drowns to stiffened white
What once was supple green. Bleak, blanched design
Reflects the lethal water’s changing height.
Beneath, where white roots intertwine with green,
The thirst goes hunting, changeless, sure, unseen.
my unsteady voice:
who gave me
Malignant man? A hostile world? Abyss?
Bad faith? No authenticity? Aliens,
Desperate, mortal, thumbing meaningless
Minutia? Love reduced to sex and Zen?
No absolutes? A shifting, soggy muck
That swallows ethics in situations?
A god who’s dead? Where platitudes can suck
The life from living? Where gross sensations
Call themselves awareness? Where any real
Is fake unless illusion? Nudity
To strip a role? And stripped, made numb to feel?
Anxious man pandering absurdity?
To cheat the blind leviathan of change,
We re-define but cannot re-arrange.
Spaces in the Sage, Parliament Publishers, 1971, pp. 2-3, 9, 28, 39, 48.