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“No god can be held fast by a mortal: but the poet may, in stillness, bring to a stand the passing-by of the god, by speaking what the god has given him to speak. The poet in stillness, stills the nearing god.” — Laurence P. Hemming on Heidegger.

The gods are in flight.

Heidegger wrote that, and he also wrote that they can be near. But they aren’t here. I don’t know if he meant it in the sense I have as doubt is my glass darkly. But somehow his words prompt my own. But who can write into the unknown without just a few glints of necessary faith.

Heidegger’s fugitive gods were certainly about his pessimism about our modern forgetfulness of being. He also wrote that gods need the hearts of feeling men. And I remember how my heart lifted at the return of the Fox Sparrow to my yard a few days ago, as he has the last several autumns. Last winter, a new pair joined him, bringing an unprecedented three fox sparrows scratching below the feeder. How they knew to join him, and his flock of Golden-Crowneds, I will never know. Where the other two are this year, I am not sure either.

Detail from Hieronymus Bosch Painting

(Detail of Hieronymus Bosch Painting, “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” 1501)

My body is still betraying me, caging me in illness, the remorseful price of an early hope-filled pregnancy. The gruel involved in what were once rote tasks is also a block to the muse. Who in pain can muster an openness to offer hospitality to the unknown. Pain asks when, when will it be over, and in that way is anxiously future-oriented. Pain rarely wants to be at home with itself in the present moment — the moment of stillness needed to still a nearing god.


(Detail of Hieronymus Bosch Painting, “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” 1501)

Like my birds, the gods need my heart in pain, and in glory. And I need them and call them back. One of my last of dwindling tools are words. But the permanency of words, the dispelling of mystery, can keep them at flight also.

And half of my grammar is unavailable to me. Not just because I am sick, but because it was a grammar we shared — and he took it with him into the underworld. An underworld I glimpsed with him and am terrified of. And like his ashes bellowing out of the crematorium a few days later, inhaled into my head with unspeakable dread, those words have broken up and are dispersed into a fading language I am not sure I have faith in anymore.

Hieronymus Bosch detail from Temptation of St. Anthony

(Detail of Hieronymus Bosch Painting, “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” 1501)

A friend eulogizing the author Marguerite Yourcenar said, “God has loved me very well through certain people.” Breaking out from the dread is the light of gratitude for those certain people. To see each other completely and still love. Not easy because we take flight ourselves, we look away. But there are those people who have come to me and are the beacon for gods I may never have known, except that they are near, in flight, rising in flocks startled by these predatory words.

And it is in the dark, the extending nights, when Fox Sparrow migrates from his remote, unknown breeding place, following an ancestral path. He does not go gentle into that good night.

“Oh good Lord, who may escape from these snares?” — The Temptation of St. Anthony