The Varieties of Religious Experience
—from William James
There are varieties. We need them because
we are different. Each idiom
meets the needs of a chosen few.
We can name the kinds though we stand outside
the hot room where the dove dives, where flames
lick the balding crowns, where the mother
speaks an improbable tongue;
or we wait outside the simpler room
where brothers and sisters attend in silence
or stand in a ring holding hands.
There are types. They shall not want
to be named.
We call the crab “crustacean,”
and if it knew it would surely say,
“I am no such thing. I am
myself, myself alone.”
God is great; we know not His ways.
What we think we own he takes from us.
Possess your soul in patience.
We may pass the valley of the shadow
or we may not!
we twitter and hop, quickly forgetting
the imminent hawk on the bough.
Lie low, lie low,
for you rest in the hands of a living God.
Experience consists of a conscious field,
plus a thing known, plus an attitude towards it,
plus a sense of the self that knows.
This is the bit, small though it be, that is solid
as long as it lasts. And on these bits—
on such push and pinch—a life is made,
and destiny rolls on fortune’s wheels
on a line connecting real events.
Yet all the while, beyond farther limits,
beyond the sensible, beyond understanding,
our beings plunge.
We close our mouths
and are as nothing
in the floods and waterspouts of God.
* * *
from the essay “The Ephemera”
And then, in the dim light, it begins. On the river's surface—exactly where I am looking—wings emerge and something rises, white and fluttering, into the air. It happens swiftly, as if the small creature has been pulled out of the river with a tug from an invisible string, or as if an inch of the water itself has crystallized suddenly into a living entity. It rises away, its white body and wings glowing in the dim light. It is the Ephoron leukon , the White Fly, large by mayfly standards, nearly an inch long. Another rises, and then another. One drags with it the husk from which it has just emerged, a limp double hanging from its lower abdomen. In a matter of minutes the air is filled with White Flies, all of them lifting away from the water at the same angle. It looks like a blizzard in reverse as the fluttering sparks lift out of the dark water and ascend together, rising in gusts.
--Published in Subtropics (2006)
Both selections used by permission of the author.