Deep Religious Faith

I grew in darkness / and a moral chemical let me respond to the light

A black-and-white photo of the poet, Shane Neilson, wearing a suit jacket and tie against an orange background.
The Walrus

                                          -after W.C. Williams

What can I tell you of the flowers?
I cannot know the flowers—I can tell you
I cannot know.

Once upon a time, I knew the meaning
of immanence. But now that word
is blankets and gauze.

Great poets, were you moved by the feeling
that roils through time, an invention
of the mortal for the gods?

Mortar for the mortal: I don’t know.
How to summon one simple
flower? An image

of building blocks, image
of a stumbling man carrying a bouquet.
Or bouquets—what time do I have?

The listeners are too quiet to be the intended audience.
This great secret:

not love for one another,
nor even respect,
but the flowers occur and recur, are precursor and recourse,

are war, curse, core, scourge—and succour.
This is transformation.
This is the difference between truth and delusion.

This is the end of my life.
I grew in darkness
and a moral chemical let me respond to the light.

Did I grow toward it?

Let the icons fall on rosehips—
let the juries deliberate on orchids—
let the poets devote themselves to horticulture and metrics

and invent fascinating systems made of the old materials.
Go ahead, young one.

Was I kind, as flowers can be a kindness?
Is the metaphor more camphor
than ichor, more metastasis

than electrophoresis, more thing than process,
more a religion of what is not (hate)
than what is (love)?

Or a balance of blankets and gauze? More apocalypse
than immanence? I do not know
one from the other.

What is the oldest thing to say, the kindest,
and does it come as question or lullaby?

When I say transform, the outcome cannot be controlled.
Otherwise I would know too much—
nothing of flowers

or of worship, for the flowers
grow beyond the altar
and the stumbling man.

Please, I’m begging you—listen:
the image is a metaphor,
and the metaphor is a prayer

that transforms into

Shane Neilson
Shane Neilson is a poet, physician, and literary critic. He is an assistant clinical professor in family medicine at McMaster University.