Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Internal Is Infernal

by CK

I washed my hands before I ate;
took 6 baths the last two weeks;
kept clear of lepers in the street;
and cleansed the outside of the plate.

I was right in all my rites
and circumspect in all the prayers.
I pay supererogative tithes
and scrub the bowls with care. 

-- but somewhere, something’s wrong
with the inside of the bowl.
Something festers in my soul,
and brings down shame upon my songs:

my mouth can lift no praise,
and my tongue is dumb and lame.
I cannot raise my hands,
and I fear to speak that Name.

I can’t perceive what defiles me
since my heart I have exempted.
There, green envies still beguile me,
and murders linger, unattempted.                               

Alas, I will peer inside the bowl.
Do I dare stare in there?
There, darkness grows, unattended.
There, pride hides, unsurrendered.

The internal is infernal
for I have kept the law external;
I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
but I have not cried,
and I have not obeyed.

I have seldom took thought
of justice or mercy,
and I have passed many beggars 
who were cold and thirsty.
And worst of all, I have thought
that I was better than the worst;
I have looked on the toll-collector
and denounced his crimes 
-- then greedily snatched the widow’s last dime

The internal is infernal:
my heart is hard, and it is cold.
It is stingy, and rapacious,
and as icy as a glacier.   

I do not know if I can assemble
a heart so conflicted with dissent.
But I will journey to the Temple
for I hear a Psalm of Ascent.
It is a song of life, I think, and so even I will stand.
My voice is hoarse,
and my heart is coarse;
but I will sing my part, 
and I will rend this heart,
and I will try to lift my hands.