Third Prize 2007 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest $150
I first read Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling at the age of 21. I was deeply affected by it at the time, but over the course of several years I have come to realize that it has been this text more than anything else that has brought about my return to Christianity after many years as an atheist and then an agnostic. My hope in this poem is to generate in others the excitement that Kierkegaard’s ideas have given rise to in me.
Fear and Trembling
Isaac, child of my old age, pear of promise.
I measure my sons innumerable not by stars,
but by laughs in the pasture, warm milk brought me
by the fire, lashes planted one by one that make
the rushes ashore his eyes. Yet here in the cool night
under the tent flap comes Your voice: this
do, this do, and in the warm dark, fragrant with sheep
and the slumbering lambs his small hand I find, press.
His five fingers fold so easily in mine.
This task and his life, You have said both, both
must be so. But the way of it, here I am blind,
and am afraid.
I have held fruit often in the pockets of my mouth,
felt it sweet and secret where none save You can see,
Your voice is known to me, but this is not a test.
Even to the first of men You gave many sons,
but Yourself, only one. Even in the rich soup
of the womb, I gathered gloom to me like flakes
of spices, cloves and fresh peppercorns of death.
I was born full-seasoned into a bed of hay.
When I was a boy You spoke to me from under the bed
of a river and I told my mother what You said.
I asked her, may man kill the lamb at supper
and hold it in his arms by morning? She answered,
sons have been taken and restored.
But this result is to me unknown; will You so forsake me?
In the simmering noon I place my hands atop my face,
I wait until they are warm and then part them slowly;
The brothy sun has poured in through the door.
I have had two sons, You know them: John and Brennan.
They have cried to You from the fields of war.
Left are their ribbed blue socks and the worn cuffs
of their flannel shirts; I wrap two neckties round
the bedpost and tie them both on Sundays.
So tender my boys’ little hands in nights long past,
folded on the bed, now I lay them down to rest.
Where in all the world are another two such sons? Where
is the crack of the bomb that will finish all the rest?
Surely it comes; I wait by the window with tea and sewing
for the rolling boil of the air. But instead Your voice
comes through the evening, leaps crackling over fact and
the coming hush, echoes back from the universal wall,
from Your dry, warm skin at the end of things:
I have promised you, it goes, it is never finished.
Copyright ©2007 by Tina Blevins