Wednesday, August 15, 2018

the reach


[the setting is El Convent del Carme de Toledo (Spain), summer 1578.]


We were novices together,
ordained and sent forth shoulder to shoulder.
For the new voyage, we named ourselves;
I chose to be known by the Cross.
So many years and discalced miles since.
So many celebrations and trials since.
When last I saw open skies and clear light of day,
our foundations increased with sisters and brothers.
We did not mitigate.
We lived the apostolate.

Yet this moment as I wake,
my back against the stone floor
of a cell barely longer than I am tall- even me,
the humble Fray Juan from Fontiveros.
Somehow my refusal to compromise
was a threat to the unreforming religious.
Somehow they’re afraid enough to torture
and incarcerate.
Walls and shackles surround me,
in these dim and foul confines.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

the reaching

I last knew freedom a year ago,
before these times of degradation and crumbs.
But faith says there are good reports afar,
beyond this fortified tower.
These barriers must be penetrable somewhere, loosened somehow.
The small breach giving light to my psalm book says so,
with the lamplit battlement I see across the hall which also says to me:
Keep picking at the lock, oh so silently;
there is an outside, there is a way.
Love, I am learning, far exceeds forsakenness;
Seek and expect to find, no matter the dense darkness.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.


From this cell, I can remember
teaching the others of belief in the unseen.
And now the teaching must be turned onto me;
the reaching must persevere, with nothing in sight.
In the nothing of damp and crepuscular constriction,
the substance of aspiration and vocation
must be kept to heart,
as though solid.

Sometimes the guard leaves an oil lamp.
He knows, through the taunting and torturing,
that I can absolve and bless, just as I did in Ávila.
Today there is no light, save for what reaches in
through cracked walls and the grate.
But the soul is enkindled from within,
human flesh as this stone keep,
ignited by the Holy Spirit uncontained,
secretly illuminating,
as canticles formulate
for me to remember and write
in a future unseen.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

night of the soul

The lashes and bread scraps now past,
they returned me to this cell,
and full darkness returns.
Like Moses, I ask how long shall I bear with this evil assembly?
Like David, I ask how long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart,
and how long shall my enemies be exalted over me?
It is undetermined and indefinite;
they cowardly want me to die in here,
without committing the deed themselves.
They don’t want a friar’s blood on their hands,
they don’t see their injustice;
they know not what they do.

But in this darkest night,
there remain embers hidden
yet still bright
deep within.
Saints and angels reach to me in this Castilian cell,
as I reach and imagine and plot,
prying quietly at the iron lock,
on strength of hope,
climbing Mount Carmel.
More walls and a river await below this putrid tower;
but I will embrace them when I can reach them.
Oh, to reach the outside air, the full daylight,
and sanctuary again to write!
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

15 August 1578 is the date San Juan de la Cruz
managed to escape from his captors.