If you must look at the sky
and see God in every stiff
cloud peaked like Cool Whip,
save me further deductions.
The world, clearly, is not enough
with you. The gassy, bloated
white holds plumes of ice
noxious with what we mortals
cook and spew to hue the pink
of a smoggy sunset’s show.
The clouds are as simple a soup
as earth. And earth the accident
of a star, like that one shot
in the shower some Thursday
before the day’s indignities.
Embrace this accident as proof
of numbers—what the endless
can do, given enough chance.
Letter to the Saints
You must have been giant
to spread yourselves so well
across time zones your minions
could not foresee in the days
this ball of rock was flat.
Extra metatarsals and meta-
carpals, hair down to your ass,
extra biomass to keep popes
in business, peasants in pews.
Your reliquaries tell of your
copiousness, of the elephantine
coupling that spawned
your excess of body and—it seems—
tolerance and virtue. The pope
is not an excellency but
an immensity—hills quiver
at his step and the air blanches
in hope it is enough to inspire
the holy lungs, the sacred alveoli,
the bronchial passages
of divine express—and the Christ
of course suffered in a skin
made frail and small, too normal
to resist the nails for long,
too ready for the thorns,
too ready for the language
it would inspire. There
is that word again, that call
of breath, of spirit, of light—
of more meanings than we have
time for here in these words,
this column thick and long
like a finger held up to point
at the sky, at what we hope
is God, at what we want
to be better than earth.
On a Week with a Bombing, a Factory Explosion, and Two Earthquakes
I don’t engage with tragedy.
Even as you mourn the freshest loss
another occurs, and so in your wailing
you have announced one more important
than another, due to the random
sequence of events. Unless, that is, you believe
in God, in which case it is all part of a plan,
which means God has chosen some as deserving
of death, which means we have invented something
that has decided to foster our prejudices.
For that, we should cease all talk of equality.
Let the rich pave their roads, and deign
That we may do so. Let the children starve,
Happy to acquiesce to the plan. Let us have
At one another with knives or our clawing hands,
Pulling flesh and earth toward us as a deity
Wishes. Let us flail at the oceans
As they eat away at our ground. Let us breathe
The sooty air as it strangles us with the fortunes
of those who, uncaring, enjoy the will of god.
Gabriel Welsch writes fiction and poetry, and is the author of four collection of poems, the newest being The Four Horsepersons of a Disappointing Apocalypse (Steel Toe Books, 2013). Recent work has appeared in Moon City Review, Weave, Main Street Rag, Mid-American Review, Heavy Feather Review, Digital Americana, Tupelo Quarterly, Quarter After Eight, and New Letters. He lives in Huntingdon, PA, with his family, works as vice president of advancement and marketing at Juniata College, and is an occasional teacher at the Chautauqua Writer’s Center.
Q: Your precise and clear-eyed poems put me in mind of Frost’s “Design” – “What but design of darkness to appall?” Any reflections on that poem or poet?
A: It’s hard not to like Frost, and for me the word that catches me in your question is “precise.” While acknowledging how subjectivity aggravates precision, and nodding to the fuzzy unknown that animates many poets, for me precision is one of the joys of writing, when I find a way to say something that resonates as real, with bonus points in the methods are surprising and unconventional. Frost makes that look easy much of the time, and I admire that about his work. I’d not read “Design” (or recalled having read it) before this prompt, but it is a fine example that reifies much of what I feel about his work.
Q: Television news seems to have added the role of hired mourner/keener to that of town crier. Is it possible not to “engage with tragedy” in a media-saturated world – how can that be accomplished?
A: I worry that television news has made it harder to “engage with tragedy” due to what we know about its manipulative techniques. Because so much coverage is politicized, amplified, and extreme, the danger to me is to grow more distant and critical—at least, that’s how I feel. More numb and inured than engaged most of the time. That’s part of the impulse that resulted in the poem, and as I considered how easy it was to step away, I imagined other viewpoints that might make it easy to dismiss, particularly as some reactions are ones of futility, ascribing horrible things to some greater plan. So, to answer your question, I do think one can work at disengaging (though the poem contradicts its opening line, which was part of the game) by becoming numb to it.
Q: The saints indeed have some interesting physical attributes - I’ve always been drawn to Wilgefortis, known as St. Uncumber, who grew a beard to foil plans for an unwanted marriage. Your saints encompass space and time – but is there one in the official calendar who intrigues you, and why?
A: There is not a particular saint to whom I gravitate. I just find the idea of reliquaries bat-shit ridiculous and surreal. And they are ubiquitous, such that I then start to wonder about supply and demand on that, and imagined that the saints, upon being beatified, suddenly ballooned so that there was enough biomass to go around. That said, I often think of St. Jude, who I have heard described as the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, mainly because my now deceased maternal grandmother gave a medallion of St. Jude to my sister to keep in her car, and that association perturbed my sister. The only other might be St. Urho, as I worked with a guy of Finnish descent who would always celebrate (to the extent that reticent Scandinavians celebrate (that would be his joke) St. Urho’s day by wearing the purple and green.
Q: When did you begin writing, and what was your first publication?
A: I have always written, but did not begin writing seriously until the early 1990s when I discovered writing workshops as an undergrad at Penn State. My first publication was in an Ohio journal, Confluence, in 1996, with a poem titled, “Domestic.” I was in the first year of earning my MFA in fiction, but a friend who attended open mic nights regularly heard me read it and suggested I send it to his friends at that literary magazine.