after Jack Gilbert’s ‘The Abnormal is Not Courage’
The Stylites stood on poles for thirty, forty years
Flagellati scourging themselves with ropes. Bloody and merciless.
A magnitude of heroism, of self-denial that allows me no peace.
This poem would lessen their feats. Question
The piety. Say it’s not beatitude, not at it’s best.
They were impossible, and too strife-driven. Too unique.
“Whose feet were they washing in the desert”
Asks dear Basil. It is too near the masochist’s mind,
the thrill of extremity. The adrenaline.
Not Macarius’ monks with no clothes or food in the desert,
but Macrina, tending the bodies of the broken poor.
Not Joseph the Lidless, But the Seven Sleepers.
Not the termini, but the via media.
Humility as reckoning oneself as worth something,
Not nothing. Frail, but not useless. Ugly, but not unlovable.
The modesty of moderation. The bravery of
non-description. It is the heroines of Victorian Literature,
not of Greek War-ballads. The hand shaken, not squeezed.
Togetherness. Not the exception.The beauty
That is of many days. Steady and clear.
It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.