I always try to tell stories with my poems, and for the most part, I try to keep abstraction to a minimal and stick to concrete, sensual fact.
And then I go and write a poem like The Paradox. Now, it does contain at least three stories, all about my great-uncle Frank, who, I explain in another book, was like a grandfather to me and my brother: Frank, smoking a cigar on the way in and out of Church; Frank smoking a cigar while pretending to fish; and though I was not there, quite possibly smoking a cigar when he slumped over at his desk (people smoked at their desks in the 50’s).
All of those are key memories of Frank, but the most important story for me is Frank explaining to me that one day I would be a pirate. As I say elsewhere, of all my family, Frank had the highest hopes for me.
But somehow all those memories get wrapped around the most important abstraction in my life:
“Sin is behovely.”
I can talk around that line, but I can’t fully explain it, because I don’t fully understand it. It is a dragon at the gate, lying in wait for a woman clothed with the sun.
It’s from a 14th-century English mystic, Juliana of Norwich, although I actually stole if from T.S. Eliot (I steal a lot of lines from Eliot).
I do know what sin is, and for me it’s not an abstraction. For me, it’s primordial physical, sensual fact.
“Behovely” is a little more tricky, a bit more abstract. It’s now considered archaic, although my Father often used the term with me: “It would behoove you to do your homework.”
It’s usually translated as “necessary,” which will do for a moment.
But what would it mean to say that “sin is necessary?”
One explanation is that at the end of all things, we’ll be able to look back at everything, and realize that it was all not only necessary, but somehow fitting and right. That’s sort of the theological answer to why bad things happen to good people.
To why my favorite uncle slumped over at his desk and died of a brain tumor.
Maybe that’s not a good answer, but it’s all I have for right now.