A New Basement Page: For Ernesto Cardenal on the Eve of the Feast of the Assumption

August 14, 2001
The Hotel El Convento
Leon, Nicaragua

Tomorrow morning,
I will have breakfast
With Sandino and Mother Theresa,
Elvis and Arafat.
They will be my company.
They will not say much, but when
do watercolored icons say much
of anything at all?

You know so very well, Ernesto,
That it is we who have so much to say about
those very icons
It is we who say prayers for
Marilyn, light candles for Elvis Aaron.
It is we who curse, bless
poets who are revolutionaries
Who are priests.

So to you, Ernesto, I submit my
meager attempt to write
a poem in a country full of poets—
poets who are revolutionaries
who are priests who in the end
are icons cast thicker than brass

I write this knowing full well
that if I am to err, it is better to err
on the side of the Iconoclast
But if you should find that I have
erred, just this once, in the opposite direction:
That I have remembered more mythos
than logos,
Know that I did not wish to write a psalm for
Some distant, wordless God,
I only wrote a clumsy prayer for a poet who is everything else,
Yet not a thing more.

This poem, written while on my first trip to Nicaragua, was originally published with an essay about the trip in the Spire, the alumni magazine of Vanderbilt Divinity School. You can read the essay and the original poem here.  I also mentioned meeting Cardenal in an earlier blog post.  And, of course, how could I write my poem without having read this?


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