Scott Cairns is Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at University of Missouri. His poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, Image, Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, etc., and both have been anthologized in Best American Spiritual Writing.
Scott Cairns’ most recent poetry collection is Compass of Affection. His spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge, and his translations, Love’s Immensity, appeared in 2007. His book-length essay, The End of Suffering, appeared in 2009. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006, and is Catherine Paine Middlebush Chair in English at MU.
…no evil thing is evil insofar as it exists,
but insofar as it is turned…
—Saint Gregory Palamás
What had I meant to say? Just now. I have forgotten.
Which among the extant flourishing phenomena
are you? Is that a limp? The evening drifts
into its routine dimming of particulars, quite
literally evening the scene along the shore.
We’re all made even now, though you’re still limping.
The little boats at anchor have retained a single stroke
of gold to edge their canvas canopies, lent them
by the setting sun’s last flare. Their painted hulls
have all gone grey—if variously grey—and we
are strolling the grey pavement to our suppers
at the beach café—το ψάροταβερνα, we like to say.
I’m hoping for grilled octopus με τζατζίκι,
παρακαλώ. Και μία μπίρα. Do you suppose
those lights ahead might frame our destination for the night?
I think they might. We’ll reach them soon enough and, when we have,
we’ll see with both our rods and cones and suddenly
our colors will return. Meantime, have you noticed how
our evening stroll compels our taking pains attending
to the variegated shade in hopes of stepping clear
of ruts along the grey? None of them is adequately
evident amid continued dimming—which has of late
become so nearly palpable that one could almost
take it or mistake it for something of itself.
Slow Boat to Byzantium
Just west of heaven’s city, the aging,
and disheveled Axion Estin
lies anchored in a shallow cove and far
as I can tell will not be hauling us
to our famous Holy Mountain anytime soon.
Country for old men, the uncommonly
wise, or—you may note—the sorely wounded young,
Mount Athos reaches its green slope and dazzling
granite far into the calm Aegean’s blue.
Slow pilgrims of our middling generation
may also find brief and random refuge there
—so long as we find ourselves another boat.
As if on cue, the Saint Panteleimon
shudders into view and beats a hulking,
churning line to make the pier with time to spare.
And so, we scurry to the deck, submit
to have our papers checked, and climb the iron stairs
to stow our packs beneath the iron benches.
If any of this frank, confusing clatter
has distracted you from prayer, the odds are good
the whole endeavor is already somewhat
compromised. Take heart. These ups and downs will not
abate, so you will surely find in time
a practice less dependent on good fortune.
All poems on this post: © Scott Cairns
Published with the permission of Scott Cairns