[Rotting Silver] “Lilies and Cedars and Corn” by B. T. Newberg

– 1. Ignorance –

Come to me, soft Gratitude:

As maiden Truth I am rolling in excrement,

Picking it up and turning it,

Molding figurines of deer and antelope,

Cedars and mountains and absolutes,

Exceeding so far in beauty

I almost forget their origins;

I cavort here with Ignorance my sweet;

He is handsome and calm

Like a well-worn shoe;

We roll the familiarity

As time goes by without a scent;

Our scent is all that we know;

It stops up our nostrils

With comfortable stucco;

The lily smell does not come in,

The cedar smell does not come in,

The ripe smell of corn does not come in;

This is our hut of mud and thatch,

Where we last forever…


– 2. Inspiration –

Come to me, soft Gratitude:

There was a girl once called Inspiration,

And her mother knew not who the father was,

So great was the joy of conception;

And she slipped like a causeless gift

Out of black and earthy moisture

Into the waiting hands of man,

Was caught by one-eyed Thought,

Who did not wait for the afterbirth,

But stole her away to be raised up,

And Thought renamed her Truth;

How supple-strong she was!

Like a springy rapier!

He could not help but magnify her;

And so his one precipitous eye,

Reflexive and roving as polished steel,

He plucked from out its socket,

Unpeeled in layers like an onion,

And made from the burnished shavings

A tower of glass and panel;

High up in the focal tower-loft

He laid the child in swaddles,

And the march of glass and panel

Syndicated her image,

Scattering ghosts of her beauty

Over earth and mud…


– 3. The Loafe –

Come to me, soft Gratitude:

There was a handsome loafe

Coursing up and down the thoroughfare

In loose-stringed sandals,

Lounging now with horsemen,

Now with flower-girls,

Now with book-men and councilors,

Making fine drama of busy-ness;

The scent of him was everyplace,

The sweat of his labors

Showed on his purchased cloak,

And the inplanes of his forearms

Clasped and clasped in greeting,

And the tendons of knee and heel

Were taut as deer and antelope,

Sure as mountains and absolutes;

Came he to a flash of light,

Dancing and cloying the soft earth;

And liking the pleasing image,

He followed it to a tower of glass and panel…


– 4. The Theft of Inspiration –

Come to me, soft Gratitude:

Thought the loafe, entering the tower:

“Who is this bony man,

“This no-eyed man with but one socket,

“Who kneels inclined to the tower-loft?

“His arms outstretch to a play of images,

“Like one struck dumb by lightning,

“Or a monk on the verge of tears!”

The tower of glass and panel

Scintillated Thought’s consciousness

With blinding sparks of glitter,

No sound nor scent of other thing

Imposing enough to notice;

He did not sense the loafe approaching

In loose-stringed sandals,

Gliding like light into the crevices,

As quickly filling up the tower

With the drip of his sweat;

And there she beheld the loafe:

The child Inspiration, grown to a woman,

Vibrated her supple-strong limbs,

And cleaved to the well-worn youth,

As natural as he to her…


– 5. The Cradle Empty-

Come to me, soft Gratitude:

A mother knows when her child is missing;

She senses soft disturbance,

And weeps before anyone knows why;

The little thing she called Inspiration,

Given up to the midwife Thought,

Was raised into a maid called Truth–

How could the loafe not want her?

And now her no-eyed guardian

Still palmed his bony arms,

Lipping incoherent prayers

To her ripe magnificence

In long innocuous raptures;

And the mother rattled and weeped,

She weeped and hoarsed and shrieked,

And her lone harpy dirge

Made every breathing creature

Sink unto a chill;

Then blinked the bony Thought,

Shaken out of his stupor,

And lo! the tower-loft was bare,

Vacant and empty and stale,

As if it never was filled,

And the bony Thought blinked,

And the tower-loft was empty and bare…


– 6. Grateful After All –

Come to me, soft Gratitude:

As maiden Truth I am rolling in excrement,

And I stink more lovely than saffron;

Once I was Inspiration, but now

I cavort here with the loafe, my sweet,

And the sweat of his labor

Drips on my supple-strong limbs;

Already his mind is distant,

As we mold like deer and antelope;

In his mind he’s already abandoned me,

It is only a matter of time;

While we mold each other

Into fine-smelling absolutes,

Nor lilies nor cedars nor corn,

Only, only, only… this;

I know we’ll not last forever:

When Thought reconstructs his eye,

He will find me here discarded

In a gangrenous dung-heap,

Wreaking of molded saffron;

He will take me home in a sheet,

And bathe me in a cold spring,

Somberly set the dinner table,

And then sit there looking down,

Taking spoons of thin broth,

For the memory of my innocence;

But is there one thing here

For which I am not grateful?

My life is no more exalted,

No more flashing than gray,

Nor sharp than a tarnished mirror;

But I like this blighted existence

That keeps me wet on the ground;

See, there is one thing here

For which I am very grateful:

My belly is growing bold,

Round and full and swooning;

Time comes by wreaking of flowers,

And still my belly swells;

Something is now inside me,

Nor of stucco nor of mold:

O my sweet unborn daughter,

My sweet and fragrant daughter!

I think I shall call you Experience;

And soon you shall know the smell

Of mists coming down off the mountains,

Of the deer and the antelope,

Of inscapes and laboring tendons,

Of black and earthy moisture,

The earth and the mud,

The long roll of familiarity,

And lilies and cedars and corn…

Rotting Silver is a column devoted to this Earth in all its tarnished radiance: poetry, prose, and parables of ugliness alloyed with joy.

A version of this piece was first published at The Witch’s Voice.

The Author

B. T. Newberg

B. T. Newberg:  Since the year 2000, B. T. has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective. He currently volunteers as Education Director for the Spiritual Naturalist Society, where he is creating an online course in naturalistic spirituality. His writings can also be found at Patheos and Pagan Square, as well as right here at HP.

Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language.  After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea, he currently resides in St Paul, Minnesota, with his wife and cat.

After founding HumanisticPaganism.com in 2011 and serving as managing editor till 2013, he now serves as advising editor, and feels blessed to be a part of this community.

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