In Honor of Chuck Colson

Published in Michael's collection of verse, "All Nature is a Sacramental Fire" (St. Augustine's, 2011).


Chuck Colson at Seventy-Five

Chuck Colson is a gold, gold train Whooshing toward the Light -- Colson Colson Colson Colson Colson Colson Colson Colson Shrieking through the night.

A Harvard man, A ramrod straight marine, He turned to law But seeing much, He never really saw.

Oh, he was smart And he was tough And -- maybe -- Just a little rough.

In all the glory Of the White House days -- He could not see The bridge was out -- Ahead a blaze.

His train once wrecked, He took it like a man. And found in prison Jesus Christ His Lord Beyond all riches prized.

To prisoners accursed, Armed with the Word, Chuck preached his Lord (As then, so now, the Same). Upon the dying sparks he blew Until the graying embers burst Like blood upon a star -- And spirits burst aflame.

Like Wilberforce, like Wilberforce Chuck set the prisoners free And yet, and yet, it was not he, Not Chuck who was the Source But Holy Spirit, Father, Son, Communion of Three.

(Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, Sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam!) Not to Chuck, O Lord, and not to us, Unto Thy Name be glory!

Chuck is a friend A kindly man In Whom God’s love does shine We know him through the broken bread And the drinking of the wine.

Chuck is a force for unity Among all Christian folk A spokesman for philosophy To frame the words God spoke.

It’s good, O Lord, to be alive -- And praise Thee, thank Thee, love Thee -- As Chuck roars through the Station, Seventy, and five.

For Karen, As Two Years Arrive

As two years arrive before your anniversary Mostly I think of you, my darling, With love and gratitude Yet sometimes I am overwhelmed with sorrow. I am so sorry, darling. I am so sorry. I regret every word that caused you pain. I know I did. Three times those last few years you dissolved In desperate tears.

I regret the full weight of my personality That sometimes fell on you My moods, my melancholy, silence, and withdrawal, Sometimes preoccupation, dark concern. You knew sometimes what I was feeling But sometimes not And you always blamed yourself For everything. All things wrong under the fierce and burning sun (As in your prints “Ash Wednesday”) You took upon yourself. Yet it was I so often wrong.

While you – You so successfully kept from me your sufferings Your “bleak clouds,” your dark discouragements, Your self-blame. You never wanted me to feel the slightest weight, You tried so hard never to complain Never to burden any other with your inner pain. You almost never did. And then you blamed yourself for that.

Regrets are useless, dear, I know, You can no longer brush away my own With warm and living fingers I cannot kiss away your salty tears. And yet I remember all the shy smiles you gave to me The awe you sometimes showed in coming to me The way you held me close.

I used to love so much the ducking of your chin When you spoke to others fondly Of me You tried to hide that sly smile of yours. Sometimes then your head tilted back upon my shoulder.

Two years! It cannot be that long, it can’t!

Will you wait for me, my love? Will you wait?

How long it is, How far the road Stretches out ahead.

—Michael (April 13, 2011) Published in First Thoughts July 27, 2011

They Recognized Him in the Breaking of the Bread

For Hadley Arkes, on the day of his Baptism, April 24, 2010 We all have laughed with Hadley We have admired him for years. We love his civic reasoning On law and natural right.

We love his love for Lincoln And for Martin Luther King— Who using natural law and right Thrice made dear freedom ring!

I remember Judy telling me-- Oh! it was many years ago— Hadley is already one of you, But the time is not yet ripe. . This news that made me happy, Made swim my ag-ed head. So I dared to say to Hadley, “I miss you / at the breaking of the bread.”

It seemed to me he believed like us In God, in law, in love; Even in the Word in Whom All things come from above.

He hadn’t quite met Jesus yet, And needed time for that. He read and thought and then --surprise!-- ’Twas after all the Church that knocked him flat.

He met with Jesus through the Church That bravely, bravely spoke the truth Before the Courts, Planned Parenthood. Media elites, and New York Times forsooth!

Dostoievsky, scholars say, Read from the Gospels every day. Come follow me, one day they say,. Come follow, come what may.

It takes a bit of trust, Lord knows, Until a man is sure. He has to try it out a while, Confess, be rendered pure.

Part of the meal one has to eat Includes a spoon of bitters, Spinach and a bowl bitter p-p-porridge In Hadley’s case it took a lot of c-c-courage!

Now we will know when Hadley’s Joined us, on Peter’s barque, on board? We recognized him breaking bread with us, At the Table of the Lord.

As many grapes one wine do make As many grains one bread So one with us will Hadley be At the Table of the Lord.

A unity with him much deeper Than we ever knew before. So shall we laugh, so shall we sing, Tell jokes and drink once more.

But now our joy will richochet Through heavens’ hosts and horde, All the centuries will eat with us At the Table of the Lord.

In the beginning only Jews did come To the Table of the Lord. So Hadley comes back home again To the Table of His Lord.

Thank God for Hadley! Thank God! All ye – Greeks and Poles And Englishmen, Ye Ethiopes, and Jews, Italians, and Frenchmen, Ukrainians and Rus--

Ye Chinese , ye Japanese, All ye from India and from the Philippines, Ye Mexicans, Chileans, And even Argentines—

Here, O Lord! comes everybody! To the Table of the Lord, Thank God! Comes everybody To the Table of the Lord.

On Loving Karen

Karen Laub-Novak

Karen Laub-Novak 1937-2009 Portrait by Igor Babailov

Thank you, lady, for reminding me what it was like To fall in love with Karen Fifty years ago. It was her eyes that did me in, Blue as the sapphire stones She bought along the Indian Ocean. Blue, with sadness deep behind them, And merriment like candle's flames on golden foil.

Eyes incapable of malice, Radiant from her heart. We talked and talked, newly met, Though we had known Each other ever since forever.

We knew the darkness and the night — That may have been our deepest bond. We weren’t afraid of night. A woman who has suffered much, as Tolstoi wrote, Inflames a lover's heart.

I cannot say if Karen loved me. That was a word she rationed, As if in uttering it she lost her self – Which fighting to hold safe so many years, Impressionable and unconflictive (As she wished to be) she could not give away.

To say would utterly destroy her, poof! Like dust she’d blow away. No, it was crucial that she act with love But seldom say the word. Crucial that she trust. Crucial to stay the Self She had, so much embattled, won.

But oh! I loved her And loving her burst into joy, An oven suddenly ignited.

Who could not love her shyness, Her evasive smile of pleasure. Her self-dramatizing humor about herself? Her idle dream had been to be an actress A comedienne of dance and music, Light of heart and blithe. What she really wanted Was to be the next Picasso. Kokoschka had told her that she could.

She was self-mockingly insistent That her I married, for her mind, To which I readily agreed Although not wholly true. Yes, Without her darkness of experience, Without her wit, Without her flashes to the heart of things, My soul could not have been so deeply wounded. But I was stricken also by her figure And her shy, shy smile.

Still later, then, her works of art I saw, Which took my breath away. A woman always struggling, Always suffering, Conflicted, active, bold. Uncompromisingly, She stripped away the skin from straining sinews And showed live bones in pain (Or maybe only tension) And underneath each face the mask of death. She saw life truly In its awfulness and joy.

Fiercest angels did she wrestle. “Every angel,” her Rilke wrote, “is terrible.”

Parting (in 1962), I handed her my novel, About a soul stripped down to nothingness Yet rejoicing in the dark (Where alone God can be found). Her favorite books were Avila’s, And The Dark Night of the Soul. Mine, too.

She thought I'd been pretentious, She later wrote, For handing her my book. But she read it on the plane One end to the other. She slyly hinted that she liked it.

So we were free to love like children Who had learned to trust, Yet knew the fingers on the windowpane, In darkness and in rain. We were made to meet. Or so I felt in thirty minutes Across the booth from her in Harvard Square.

Most extraordinary thing: I had described her in my novel Two years before we met. Lovely girl, an artist, Upon Bernini’s bridge at midnight When the Tiber turned to silver Beneath a silver moon.*

So I knew that I had known her And would marry her. Knew, but didn’t say a word. For four days we did nothing But go out together. She was fearless driving Boston streets. That was what convinced me She was tough. More tough than I. Which was in my dream.

I knew I loved her, almost bam! It took her longer: Three close suitors in hot pursuit, Each one aspiring lawyer as if In answer to her lawyer father’s prayers. One did love her mightily, I later learned. Thank God she took a leap toward me.

We were apart all summer, She at the Worcester School of Art, And I in Europe, steadily describing to her All I saw, and quietly insinuating... We were meant to meet. A hundred letters sent in all-- Desperate to hold her heart.

Just last month, My sister found her photo, Sitting on my parents’ lawn In September, 1962. My brother Dick (whom K. had met at Harvard) Was on his way to Bangladesh, And Karen planned her drive from Iowa To pick me up, both Harvard-bound, To bid dear Dick farewell. (Little did we know it was forever.)

She sits upon the lawn her knees drawn up In short black shorts, a Vee-striped blouse Of orange and brown, and on her head A turban striped the same. A skinny, gawky kid in shell-rimmed glasses Sits as close to her as decency permits. Can that be me? Even then I asked myself, Can this be me? How can that fellow sit with such a one In total inner peace?

Our honeymoon some ten months thence, On Minnesota’s Forest Lake-- My beloved walked into the bath, A towel on arm but not a stitch of clothes, And closed the door. Let out a piercing shriek, fell back, Slid downward noisily onto the floor. Had burglers broken in?

Leaping to the door, I saw a bat attacking her. I pulled her out, and stepped inside To face the bat, and illumination struck my mind: “So this is what a married man is for?” Gulping folded up a towel to swing And watched its swoops As closely as a pitcher’s wicked curve When it buzzed in and dove at me. I caught it fairly, brought it down But in the motion felled myself.

Here Karen showed her wit, Broke in, a basket in her hands Which she slapped down upon the now-dazed bat. “How do we get it out of here?” I asked with weak male reason. She answered me with motion, Returning with a cardboard square To slip beneath the basket. Cool as a cop she marched it to the darkened door And flicked it up into the night. What a cool, cool girl, I marvel, Then and now.

She also showed me what a coward I could be When once at dinner little three-year-old Began to choke, in desperation turning red. I froze. Not K. She leapt across the kitchen Plunged her finger down the throat, Pulled out the villainous blob. Not the first or only time She moved with wit and bravery While I sat panicked, turning pale.

St Thomas (Aquinas) wrote, “Of all friendships, Marriage is by far the greatest.” I used to tell my classes that, And say that it is true. The only thing – I used to warn – is this: If you don’t like the truth about yourself, Then don’t get married. When you live close in, Illusions are expensive. So once the honeymoon is over, Your lover's duty is To puncture every one of yours -- One by painful one. My lover pricked an awful lot of mine. Especially my conceits.

Annoying faults my lover also had, So I did edit them, much to her pain. She had a low opinion of herself, So one more fault was more than she could bear. I added to her pain. I'm sorry that I did.

Oh, Glory! I loved Karen, Love her still. Irradiant soul. Valiant, courageous, strong, Yet soft and vulnerable. Beautiful with full and loving sensual beauty. Funny, amusing, telling tales about herself – Confessing all her silly faults Before I found them out.

She was wonderful to hug. She loved to hug. She needed many hugs – Or maybe I did.

And now she seems so close to me. I commune with her incessantly Since now she sees me even to my inner self. I hear her laughing quite a lot As I go bouncing light to light And wall to wall, a pinball In a slanted box. She enjoys My blunders. Always has.

It seems she has told everyone (Before she died) I worried her-- “He doesn’t know a thing around the house. “He cannot do it for himself.” It isn’t true, of course. I do okay. But in an obvious sense, b'god, The girl was right.

There is no other like her. She is unique. I was lucky, lucky, lucky, To be with her for nearly fifty years. That is why I look at photos, Read old letters, and let the burning Burn my soul.

Published in First Things Online February 14, 2010

* I here compress the actual plot.

The Lord God In Embryo

For the Feast of the AnnunciationBy Michael Novak

“Mary?... Mary!” The Angel said, pursuing. “Did I catch you musing? Hail, Mary. Do not be afraid, I bring you news: The Lord God of Hosts Has chosen you –

(Creator of the Sun and moon and all the stars! Of angels, saints, and men And lovely maids like you.)

In your case, full of grace – There is no sin in you. The Lord God has chosen you, And asks you, Mary, To bear His only Son, The Redeemer of the world.

Do not be afraid. Do not be ashamed. Before Time was, He knew you, Mary, And made you for this holy joy. Blessed are you, Mary, And blessed is His boy within you—

Emmanuel, Born of the House of David, Brought to birth by you For the saving of the world. (To bring all children home.)”

“Yes,” she said.

And the Spirit of the Lord Poured Light in her, The Father’s seed Took root In Embryo.

Among all women, Mary, He has chosen you. Before Time was He chose you And made you for this holy joy Blessed are you, Mary! And blessed in you is His little boy.