We print your name on dollars
And are sure you stand over everything we say is under God
And all nations assume you are on their side and always have been,
war in and war out,
And every religion understands you better than every other religion,
and you in turn lean towards each with special inclinations.
You are called on to bless babies and aircraft carriers
And you are ceremoniously and endlessly praised on the basis that
flattery will get us somewhere.
But there are those who pray as though tendering a bribe payable
So as to accumulate years in this life and credits in the next.
Some of us make you out a broker who supplieth needs and wants
Attorney who defendeth against hard claims
Expunger of guilts who cleareth the conscience so we may be free
to muck it up again
Housekeeper of the soul who cometh in to clean once a week;
King of accountants auditing our secret selves,
Liquidating our trespasses as we liquidate those who trespass
Keeping batteries of books filled with fateful identifications,
Entering as much the fall of a sparrow as the crash of a plane.
But there have been complaints against you—charges of malfeasance,
Implications of sleeping on the job, trigger temper, proneness to
Tantrums that have consumed too many of the innocent with
too few of the heinous.
Some of your public begrudge you the benefit of doubt and doubt
Protesting that it was antic of you to begin with, if we are to swarm like maggots
on a rind too meager to support our duplicating billions.
Some say the noblest ideas were set down by man
And that you have been served by holy ghost writers beyond your
They say that the whole conspicuous distance between the worm
and Einstein, the drone of the bee and Beethoven,
The entire interval has been filled with struggles trailing blood:
Ages of frightened proto-men, heavy with ignorance, recoiling
in profligate floods, perishing in earthquakes, staggering
into the unknown,
Their wails and brute chants and broken grunts fructifying at last
into songs and sonnets and hallelujahs to your glory.
—Well, dissidents suggest that during this grand span you sat it
out; that in the vasty meanwhile you went off to fish in
Lately it was announced that you are dead
Which means several things besides the receiver being off the
hook when we dial you.
It means that time must carry on by itself,
And stars pinwheel through incandescent deserts and bottomless
voids, all on an orderly hunch;
It means the arching upward from the mud has been a drunken
course, and purposeless, and hardly worth the trip;
It means the very mansion of existence has no windows, and is
just a big white elephant boarded up and haunted by your
It means that springtime is a come-on and a put-on, and not at all
a show of dogged life, a riot of chlorophyll, a surge of sap
and elixirs from wells so deep no radar pulse can ever
return to tell what and where it touched;
It means that the love of man and woman is a table of percentages,
and their desire a disease of the id;
It means that birth is a happening between pills,
and old age a phase held together by plastic parts;
It means that the heart of man is replaceable as soon as the donor is
And death is a package deal with the best advertised mortuary.
So, God: if you are alive and in that heaven we have come to know
is spotty with systems of gravity, each pulling for itself,
Then perhaps you must flex the muscle of divine authority to get
back in office
Because your antique miracles have been trumped by solemn
Daily the patent office registers intenser magic than the burning
The serpent from the rod becomes a ruby laser;
The leper is healed by mycins;
The blind draw vision from an eye bank.
That being the case, dear busy God, please manifest thyself
through one superlative, new-minted covenant:
Create for the lot of us—all nations indivisible—an Act of God
more stupendous than mere parting waters or a
A miracle harder to come by, that would, if consummated,
cause dry bones from all the hundred holocausts to meet
And charter stars to sing together in the brightest chancels of
And this is what that miracle would be:
That man should love his kind in all his skins and pigments,
And kill no more.
That we should love our kind
And kill no more.
Yes, granted, such a miracle is asking very much of you
But it is long past time to ask.
“The Secretariat” broadcast November 1997 on NPR