Musings about life on Earth in all its aspects…

Month: December, 2014



“Her eyes are darker than the deep cathedrals,
her words come dressed as mourners.”
– T
homas Merton, from the poem
“In Memory 
of the Spanish Poet Frederico García Lorca”

Her eyes are darker than the deep cathedrals

Words dressed as mourners
are poised on her lips. She pouts
a bit, a quiver wavering. She
contemplates hiding her face
in the gold leaf of His halo.
But she cannot take her eyes off us.
She stares. “It is you, and you,
and you, too – all of you who
will use this Child.”

She cannot take her eyes off us.
She avoids looking to the side.
The lance, the nails, held
in the hands of those angels,
are nothing compared with
the pierce of her gaze.

Her eyes may hold tears
somewhere in their depths,
tears welling up, a reservoir
of tears shimmering blackly,
but she does not share them
with us. She just watches and
stares, drawing out our souls,
pulling us into the nave,
the transept, the arched
and domed depths of her face,
into her eyes, dark as cathedrals.

– Roy Beckemeyer

When I first read those powerful lines in Thomas Merton’s poem, “In Memory of the Spanish Poet Frederico García Lorca,” they called to my mind a religious print, “Our Mother of Perpetual Help,” that had hung on the wall of our home when I was a child. Merton’s poem did not, of course, make reference to Mary, mother of Christ, but the images seemed too special and appropriate to her to let them go. In addition to using the lines as a quote to introduce my poem, I borrowed them, the 2nd directly for the 1st line of my poem, and the 1st paraphrased in the last line. I hope that Merton would not have been offended by this.

Images of the Virgin Mary, called Theotokos (“Bearer of God”) icons – are of special importance in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. This famous icon, titled Our Lady of Perpetual Help, was painted by an unknown 15th Century Post-Byzantine artist of the Cretan school. The original wooden icon measures 17″ × 21″ inches and is painted on hard nut wood with a gold leaf background. The image depicts the Virgin Mary wearing a dress of dark red, representing the Passion of Jesus, with a blue mantle, representing her perpetual virginity, and cloaked veil, which represents her pure modesty. On the left side is the Archangel Michael, carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Jesus. On the right is the Archangel Gabriel carrying a 3-bar cross used by Popes at the time and nails. This type of icon is also called a Hodegetria (literally: “She who shows the Way”) composition, where Mary is holding the Child Jesus at her side while pointing to Him as the source of salvation for mankind.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk and one of Catholicism’s most prolific and respected modern apologist authors. Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and pacifism; he also wrote many essays, poems and reviews. His best-selling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), was featured in National Review’s list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century.


Spanish Moss and Mooonlight

Spanish MossR2

The shape on paper was hers,
light pencil tracings
of the first ideas
of how the moss would hang
in front of the moon,
the humid haze would hover
in the luxuriant Louisiana sky.

Now he was shaping it
in three dimensions,
his fingers and hands
working together, centering,
centering, pressing, smoothing
the Lake Pontchartrain clay;
his strong left leg powering
the treadle, the wheel spinning,
the vase rising into an almost
living, an almost organic form
from a shapeless lump of earth.

“Pinch in the neck,” she said,
“there above that rounded shoulder
that suggests the tops
of the trees – constrict the clay
into a sharply defined ring,
a cylindrical edge that will
pronounce: Here is a vase –
a form with a hollowness,
with emptiness, inside it.”

“Oh,” she said, “the blue and pale
lighted circle of trees
I have in mind will hold
within that hollow space
where all vases hide
their secrets, the mystery
of moonlit nights and bayous.”

She carries off the greenware,
places it on her turntable
and begins to shave off
strips of clay, layers of clay,
snippets of clay that drop
to the workbench, leaving strands
of moss to fall from the trees.

As clay curls off the edge
of her embossing knife,
the live oaks and bald cypress
rise, their branches woven,
and everywhere the Spanish moss,
drapes, droops, caresses
the tree forms, bounds
the growing image from above
the way bayou trees frame
the southern night skies.
With the first firing, the vase turns
white as the fullest moon,
ready for the glaze. The blues,
pale, paler, palest,
separate sky and foliage,
shape and void,
turn black bayou waters
into a moonlit blue sheen,
mark the sky for radiance
with flowing silken glaze.
The trees across the water loom
upward, reaching, reaching,
and the round moon hides
behind fingers of moss,
the deepest blue moss,
moss that loves live oaks
and warm nights and calling owls
and chirping tree frogs.

And then the final fire, the kiln blazing,
clay and glazes merging, capturing
in the chemistry of ceramics and heat
a moment of time, making it
a piece of forever, burning
into reality an imagining
of shape and form and color
and shadings. Oh, yes, here is what
she saw before she began to sketch.
And here is what his fingers felt
before he took up the clay. Here
is what they made, together,
from earth and fire and memories,
from Spanish moss, from live oaks,
from moonlight.

– Roy Beckemeyer


This is an ekphrastic poem inspired by a Newcomb Pottery vase thrown by Joseph Meyer and deeply carved by artist Sadie Irvine with live oak trees and Spanish Moss in front of a full moon. The vase, pictured above, was made in 1919.