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Vol. 11, No. 2: Summer 2005

Praying with George Herbert in Late Winter

by Tom Andrews

In fits and starts, Lord,
   our words work
the other side of language

where you lie if you can be said
   to lie. Mercy upon
the priest who calls on you

to nurture and to terrorize
   him, for you oblige.
Mercy upon you, breath’s engine

returning what is to what is.
   Outside, light swarms
and particularizes the snow;

tree limbs crack with ice
   and drop. I can say
there is a larger something

inside me. I can say,
   “Gratitude is
a strange country.” But what

would I give to live there?

   Something breaks in us,
and keeps breaking. Charity,
   be severe with me.
Mercy, lay on your hands.

   White robes on
the cypress tree. Sparrows
   clot the fence posts;
they hop once and weave

   through the bleached air.
Lord, I drift on the words
   I speak to you—
the words take on

   and utter me. In what
language are you not
   what we say you are?
Surprise me, Lord, as a seed

   surprises itself . . .

   Today the sun has the inward look
of the eye of the Christ child.
   Grace falls at odd angles from heaven

   to earth: my sins are bright sparks
in the dark of blamelessness . . .
   Yes. From my window I watch a boy step

   backwards down the snow-covered road,
studying his sudden boot tracks.
   The wedding of his look and the world!

   And for a moment, Lord, I think
I understand about you and silence . . .
   But what a racket I make in telling you.

Bounty Everlasting: Poetry from 25 Years of Southern Cultures

This poem is featured in Bounty Everlasting. Read all 25 for free.

Tom Andrews (1961–2001) authored two critically acclaimed books of poetry, The Brother’s Country and The Hemophiliac’s Motorcycle. A recipient of the 1999 Prix de Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, his literary awards include an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Iowa Poetry Prize. In the words of his teacher Charles Wright: “Tom was singular and luminous, as is his work. All of us, each one of us, will leave a space, an emptiness when we die. But all of us, when we go, will not, as Tom did, turn out a light.”

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