By Charles Hughes
from a history professor’s remarks
on the occasion of his retirement
I couldn’t draw a clock face at the doctor’s.
Mistakes—small ones, but I got angry, trying
To freeze an old-style clock in my mind’s eye:
Black circle, its twelve numbers and two hands.
This happened several weeks ago—six weeks?
(My wife is nodding, my long-suffering wife)--
An April day. I gazed at a cold sun.
Marine biologists who study dolphins
Must think at least as much about the ocean
Where dolphins live. How else to understand
Their diet, travels, language, their diseases?
You might therefore suppose historians
Would give more thought to time, that vaster ocean
Enveloping the history of the world.
Historians too often take time for granted--
Marshalling evidence, telling our tales--
And tend not to acknowledge time as such,
Leaving the subject to philosophers
And poets. Wordsworth warned that “ye who pore /
On the dead letter, miss the spirit of things . . . .”
All creatures may be such embodied spirits
As we all are—all waiting—each a sign--
All creatures creatures of the Incarnation,
The angel’s shocking news, God’s tryst with time.
Less purposefully perhaps than dolphins, more
Like clouds blown by the wind, like logs on water,
We move from murky pasts to unknown futures,
Our present moments much too quick for our minds.
We know so little. I know less and less.
I’m saying these things, believing them, but then
Faith isn’t knowledge in the usual sense.
Especially now with spring in bloom—the scent
Of lilacs, the pink flowers on redbud trees,
The clouds bright white again—I feel things more
And more. “To her fair works did Nature link /
The human soul . . . .” I fight for words I want,
And it’s getting worse. Is there some mechanism
Buried deep in the mind’s dark recesses,
So that when words, like dying leaves in autumn,
Dry up and drift away, dreams come to life?--
Fraught images make living memories?
Sometimes I dream about the London plagues,
Plagues in the London of the 1590s.
The stench and filth, the screaming suffering. Shakespeare
Gone from the city to a country house.
Donne fishing in the Thames. And Julian!--
Long dead by then and not a Londoner--
Still mercifully writing in her cell.
“His love suffrith us never to lose tyme”--
Though as I’m learning, time will do its work,
Time being redeemed, being liturgy, a flood tide,
Rising, inflected toward eternity,
Prospero’s towers and palaces in reverse,
Becoming not dissolving—time, our sea,
Drowning us, uncreating us to be.
Charles Hughes has published two books of poems, The Evening Sky (2020) and Cave Art (2014), both from Wiseblood Books. His poems have appeared in the Alabama Literary Review, Amethyst Review, The Christian Century, Literary Matters, the Saint Katherine Review and elsewhere. He worked for over 30 years as a lawyer and lives in the Chicago, Illinois, area with his wife.
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