David Novak

From Sonnets (copyright 2000).
Reprinted with permission of the author.

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"Poets write things in which they don't believe."
What does this mean? We don't believe in love?
We don't believe that Adam and that Eve,
Our ancient parents, heard a Voice above,
Telling them not to eat that apple of
Knowledge of right and wrong? No, none of these.
It means belief, which none of us may prove,
Is not our function: those are privacies,
Specific to the soul that waits release
From bondage to the body to its greater,
Lasting and uncommemorative peace,
That happens after death, and even later.
What poets don't believe in, meaning death,
Was proved fallacious ere they drew their breath.


"Submission to the will of God" is good,
Yet what the will of God is, none can say,
Though many people have it understood,
And gladly condescend to show the way.
"The Lord wills this", "the Lord wills that," one hears,
As if they have a secret channel to
His innermost desire - their hopes and fears
As congruous with what He'd have them do.
"When Christians came, and brought the Bible, we
Possessed the land; but now we have the Bible,
They, the land" - wherefore servility
Is preached, and blasphemy a form of libel.
So Creeds have ever confiscated booty,
And yoked the dispossessed to heaven's duty.


Lithe limbs my limbs did once enfold,
Soft lips my lips did, parting, kiss,
Such grace as man may once behold
Then parting from, forever miss.
Sweet breath with my breath intermingled
As passion pressed us close together
In unison, as bodies tingled
Not knowing which was either neither.
Light-murmured words of deep import
As tuned my ear to their caressing,
As gentleness became our sport,
Gentility our only blessing.
Wild days of love, yet numbered few -
And since 'tis years, since I had you.


Soft-spoken, mild, obedient,
A good girl who believes in God,
Such was the blessing I was sent,
Who let me love her mind and bod.
She wasn't old but she was wise
In how a woman serves a man,
And gives him, not just sweetest eyes,
But her allegiance, as she can.
Devotion, Lord, and rites of passion,
As in the holy name fulfilled,
Not jealousy nor quest for fashion
To ever see his passion killed.
Forgive me, Lord, if it is wrong
For many loves as this to long.


Lord, if Thy will permits it please
Forgive my errors of the past,
And me to better days release
From misspent hopes and fears miscast.
Lord, if my body lets me have
The fairer sex to hold as mine
But as a lover, not a slave,
Obedient to things divine;
And if Thy will permits it, Lord,
A harem, and seraglio,
But pleasant, not some angry hoard,
Where I may keep my women so -
So let me, if Thou canst approve,
But let me not forsake Thy love.


Forgive me, God, if this is wrong,
But I believe it isn't so;
For I have had this passion strong
Since in my early days of woe.
But let Thy will be done, not mine,
And what I ask for never be
Unless with Thy intent divine
The hopes I have don't disagree.
I'd rather be a pauper poor
Devoid of even slightest ease
Than have fulfilled this wish and more
If with Thy will it disagrees.
Thy mercy, Lord, is all I ask,
To teach me to fulfill Thy task.


Lord, this I never had to ask
Did she, my older love, remain,
Without whom life's a loathsome task,
But full of sorrow, strife, and pain;
Had she been faithful, fair and true
Much as she promised me to be,
And not to do as women do,
Which I believed - so look at me!
My heart and soul to her I gave,
Naive because I loved too well
A person I might never have
Nor what we had must ever tell.
Wherefore, dear Lord, do I beseech
To compass loves within my reach.


These names I keep repeating, such as Keats
And Hopkins, part of the unique succession
Of poetry's transmission each one meets,
Make up my rosary, hear my confession.
These names make up my mantra I repeat,
My Japa, in my fervid state of mind
When other thoughts have all been obsolete
In guiding me, to where I am inclined.
What is this madness, Lord? What this despair
Tormenting me, and seemingly unceasing,
When all my efforts lead me to no where,
And all my burdens seem to be increasing?
Their thought, the same weird journey having taken,
Doth comfort me - that yet may be mistaken.


Dear God! a life as lived between extremes,
Either the one, intractable enforcement
Of chastity that's anchored to false dreams
Pretending to morality's endorsement;
Or else the opposite, abandonment
Of all pretense to individuation
In love's pursuit, to moral decrement -
These both I've known, but never mediation.
God, like as land that suffers dearth and flood
In alternating waves, thus have I been;
Either too cold, or else too hot the blood,
And never gradiation in between.
Now after years of heaven, years of hell,
My body that was strong, is but a shell.


Hast dropped thy litter, pregnant Calico,
And thou a pup thyself - I see thou art
Less full in belly, which before did show
Rotund thy load, not nature's plan athwart.
So young - the neighbors seeing one depart
Its comfort's confines of thy heaving womb,
Did say of thee, "She ran off with a start
With that old Tom" - I asked who? "Old grey Tom" -
Like as to implicate thee as a mom
Unfit for child-rearing. They the kitten
Did scoop, so they did say, to take to home,
They with its weak debility all smitten.
Yet "unfit moms" so-called, are often fitter
Than high-bred dames like these to have a litter.


One must be strong; but, Father, it is hard,
So hard when all about us we observe
That falsehood and deceit seem to reward,
While truth and faith most torture that most serve.
This all have seen - and Justice only known
By its heartwrenching absence in manšs world,
The ancient Confidence to heaven flown,
Or else down to the craggy hellholds hurled.
Yet, Lord, deliver me from the deserved,
For what do I deserve but death most foul?
Forgive me in that I have greatly swerved
From Thine intent, and nearly lost my soul
An hundred times, and body all unnerved -
An hundred hundred times - Lord, keep me whole!


So I and thou, it could be me and you,
Kiddo, but that was once, and might have been,
But this is now, and I forever true
Could not have been, in light of what Išve seen.
For I have seen, abjectly, the reversal
Of every thought I thought I ever had,
My empty bag now scattered for dispersal,
Its contents mostly good when they are bad.
So furthermore, on thee I lavish praise
To mock myself, that is cheap counterfeit
Of thee, derived from thee, whom I always
Do plunder for my thought's unlettered writ.
So, so it goes. Thou reader, stand unfazed:
For if you saw her face, you'd be amazed.