Truth and Fiction in the Poetry of M. A. Griffiths
The 1904 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine and Physiology, I.P. Pavlov, conditioned dogs to associate meals with a bell. In the first decade of the 21st century, M. A. Griffiths achieved a similar effect in hundreds of Internet poetry enthusiasts. The poet known as “Maz” or “grasshopper” on a bewildering number of extant and extinct online poetry forums—including Sonnet Central, The Poetry Kit, The Pennine Poetry Works, Burgundy, Capriole, P.O.E.M.S. Place, The Poetry Free-for-All (at Everypoet.com), The Gazebo (of The Alsop Review), and Eratosphere (of the magazine Able Muse)—conditioned us to associate her imaginative works with the ring of truth.
Fiction’s power to reframe reality pervades the 384-page Grasshopper: The Poetry of M. A. Griffiths (Arrowhead Press, 2011). The clearest articulation of this theme comes in “Breaking the Habit,” a free-verse piece so plainspoken that it contains barely any adjectives. The poem begins “Helen always loved her son,” details her attempts to deal with his drug-fueled criminal behavior, and ends:
Now she never sees him. Last year
he wrote her a letter pressed black
with hate. She tells everyone that
he was a changeling and the elves
took him back to fairyland.
When people say, “Really?”,
she replies that it is not a fact
but in every other respect, it is
completely true. Then she smiles
like a slice of lemon.
“It is not a fact” can be said of almost every yarn this inventive poet spins. So can the phrase “in every other respect, it is/ completely true.”
Margaret’s talent for credible fantasy complements her ability to address very painful realities— loss, grief, betrayal, the chronic stomach ailment that eventually killed her—in a way that is both heroic and completely relatable. Sure, her vivid first-person narration puts readers in some very unpleasant situations, as do many poets enamored of the manipulative power of shock value. But Margaret’s work never feels less than emotionally honest, and she never abandons us in the dark. Even in her grimmest pieces, I don’t just imagine myself in whatever agony the narrator (and very likely the poet) is experiencing. I also imagine myself facing those horrors while equipped with the same honesty and dignity that Margaret models in her poems. It’s an accessible dignity that seems within my own reach. If Margaret’s very human anger and disgust and depression can coexist with courage and humor, maybe mine can as well. Her poems make me think that I have it within me to face reality as bravely as she did in her final years.
Perhaps this is her most masterful fiction of all. But I cherish the hope that it, too, will turn out to be “completely true.”
* * *
Margaret speaks as convincingly in the imperious tones of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, as she does in the Yorkshire accent of a sentimental farmer mourning his “awd berrel-bottom boar,” who will “hefta be hautopsied and cinerated” because “Tha’s not allowed ta bury pigs, tha knows.” Her inhabitation of modern, urban personae is equally pitch-perfect. The oh-so-subtle affirmations of life in the final two lines of this 2002 sonnet reverberate because they are so plausible. A cop jaded enough to diminish a suicide to an inconvenient but routine “mess” could never be any more demonstrative or introspective than this:
Rehearsing in his head what he will see,
the cop sighs as he walks along the hall.
Another Pollock painted on a wall
with gouts of blood and brains, but mindlessly.
They never think of who must scrub the room,
ignoring cleaner ways to forfeit hope—
the pills and plastic bag, or choke of rope—
and choose the Western way, a graphic boom.
The girlfriend has arrived. Send Gilchrist down
to break the news. He has the tender knack.
Another death to document, more mess,
another final pratfall for a clown.
He stuffs an unsmoked Lite back in its pack,
then breathes and feels the movement in his chest.
Through her oracular ability to speak truth in voices other than her own, Margaret conditioned her fans to expect fiction with her truth-speaking, just as Pavlov’s dogs anticipated a treat when they heard his bell. This explains why, when Maz occasionally posted first-person narratives of physical suffering and imminent mortality, only naïve newbies in these workshops suspected that those poems might be more than loosely autobiographical. Old dogs like me just salivated as usual over Margaret’s characteristic ingenuity, emotional resonance, and craftsmanship.
Dear Stomach,–Look, we’ve really had enough.
Your job is simply to digest the stuff
supplied by Hands and Tongue, to move it through,
not chuck it up. Spurned food is déjà vu
and hurts Oesophagus; she’s frankly pissed,
and Face says please forget The Exorcist,
because projectile vomits are not fun
and bloody heartburn hacks off everyone.
Lungs say they’re worried by a niggling cough
and Guts say if you won’t perform: Sod off!
That’s not my phrase—I’m mediating here,
but want to stress the general atmosphere.
Please see these hiccups don’t occur again.
I sign myself, sincerely,
I sign myself, sincerely,–Upper Brain.
Although Margaret had dropped us similar clues about her medical condition for at least seven years, news of her death in the summer of 2009 came as a complete and devastating surprise to most of her loyal fans.
* * *
Margaret’s admirers mourned the loss of her talent, of course, but also the loss of her collegiality—the ways in which her wise and witty presence had enriched our various online communities. I had known the deceased only via Eratosphere, where workshop participants soon marveled to each other that we could so keenly miss someone whom none of us had physically met. Margaret had been incredibly generous with her time and expertise, and adamant in her defense of honesty over flattery in critiques. According to Maz, overly positive feedback does everyone a disservice, by cheating an individual of opportunities for improvement and lowering the standard of excellence for the whole community. She warned that workshops cease to be productive unless their participants remain honest with each other and with themselves. Truth was never sullied with social fictions in her evaluation of a poem, and she wouldn’t tolerate obvious fictions in others’ critiques, either.
After expressing our initial shock and sorrow, Margaret’s many admirers began to clamor for a posthumous collected works volume to preserve the legacy of this little-published but greatly-appreciated poet. Roger Collett, who had long been trying to persuade Maz to submit a manuscript to his Arrowhead Press (a not-for-profit in Darlington, County Durham, England), immediately announced his determination to produce a book of Margaret’s poetry…if copyright permissions could be secured from her next-of-kin, and if someone could help his editorial staff to compile publication-ready material.
David Anthony of Stoke Poges, Buckingham, England, volunteered to take the lead on legal matters, and Rose Kelleher of Maryland, USA, spearheaded the effort to gather and archive Maz’s poems. Janet Kenny of Queensland, Australia, successfully lobbied Margaret’s hometown newspaper, The Bournemouth Echo, for a front-page obituary to, in Janet’s stirring words, “let the people of Poole, England, know that a significant poet lived quietly in their midst.” Within weeks, a larger grassroots task force had spontaneously formed to help produce and promote Maz’s book, including the following poets and editors: Christina Fletcher of London; Alan Wickes of Derbyshire; Helena Nelson of Scotland; Ann Drysdale of Wales; Paul Stevens of New South Wales; Michael Cantor of Massachusetts; Bob Schechter and Kate Bernadette Benedict of New York; Maryann Corbett of Minnesota; Mary Meriam of Missouri; Julie Stoner and Alex Pepple of California; and Mike Alexander of Texas.
Compiling a definitive manuscript without the author’s assistance presents unique challenges. At least there was no shortage of material to choose from in Margaret’s case. Though she rarely submitted poems to magazines, Maz had posted prolifically to Internet poetry workshops—at times posting three or four outstanding new poems to different forums over the course of a single week. But would it be responsible to regard these versions as polished enough for publication? Mind you, these were not vanity postings of finished material, but invitations for other poets to critique near-final drafts. Margaret often indicated in these poems’ discussion threads that she intended to make further changes in response to participants’ commentary. But the final versions, if Maz ever got around to completing them, were lost when her computer hard drive crashed, not once but twice, in her final years. Margaret’s close friend and eulogist, David Adkins, was very supportive of the project, contributing valuable biographical information and some poems that Maz had sent to him; however, he confirmed that her belongings contained nothing in either paper or electronic format that might aid the book project.
The task of gathering Margaret’s work was further complicated by the fact that most workshop sites purge old posts regularly, in order for participants to be able to submit those poems to magazines that reject “previously published material.” As a result, nothing remains of the poems “Lilah” and “A Piece of the Black Forest” but the vague memories of those lucky enough to have been impressed by them when they were workshopped at The Gazebo. Likewise, Margaret’s five Sonnet Bake-Off entries were among the few surviving examples of her Eratosphere posts. Fortunately, 134 poems that Maz had emailed to members of The Pennine Poetry Works had been automatically archived at the group’s JISCmail site. However, some Internet sites containing Margaret’s work went defunct shortly after Rose Kelleher had copied those files to the task force’s archives. And since Maz’s earliest extant poems (dated 2001) display the mastery of a very experienced poet, much of her oeuvre must have already disappeared without a trace.
Despite the aforementioned difficulties, it took only a few months to acquire, archive, and index the texts of 316 poems, dating from July 2001 to August 2008. Rose’s efforts were aided by Alan Wickes’ laborious search of old Sonnet Central posts, and by the donations of private hoards from B.J. Preston, Donald Zirilli of Capriole, Rob Godfrey of Burgundy, Alex Pepple of Eratosphere, Paul Stevens of The Shit Creek Review, and Maz’s frequent e-mail correspondent, Christina Fletcher. I had the privilege of helping Rose proofread and annotate the text file that eventually made its way to the editor of Arrowhead Press, who confirmed his intention for the final book to be as comprehensive as possible.
[Editor's note: Julie is too modest about her role in getting the collection published. She did a wonderful job of keeping everyone up to date, came up with all kinds of helpful ideas, and helped with the indexing and other grunt work, all the while bubbling with enthusiasm and patiently bearing with certain difficult personalities, by which I mean mine. We all owe her a big debt of thanks. RMK]
* * *
Proofreading the source material for Grasshopper: The Poetry of M. A. Griffiths was an eye-opening experience for me in many ways, but particularly with regard to Margaret’s attitudes toward spirituality and theology. For personal reasons, I will devote the remainder of this essay to her religious poems, although I hasten to point out that a wide array of other interesting subjects—including animals, politics, history, gender, sexuality, and the artistic ego—is also represented in Margaret’s book.
In honor of the hatchet jobs she had done on the poems I workshopped at Eratosphere, I titled the memorial sonnet I wrote for her “More Religious Twaddle for You, Maz Dear.” Given the fact that I had been posting my theological meditations for comment in a very secular forum, the machete-work of a nonbeliever may not seem terribly remarkable. But it was. Believers are notoriously hypersensitive to persecution (real or perceived), so peaceable infidels generally let religious poems slide down the board in online workshops, untouched. In contrast, Margaret was frank about the fact that she found my Roman Catholicism more than a bit ridiculous at times. She showed a keen interest in making me a better poet anyway. And since Maz wrote the kind of coveted critiques that are valuable not only to the author of the work under consideration, but also to anyone interested in the wider mystery of what makes a poem good or bad, a post from Margaret on a previously-ignored poem of mine guaranteed that other poets would read and respond to her commentary. Without Maz, I would not have learned and grown from the workshop experience at anywhere near the same rate.
In the sonnet I posted to Margaret’s tribute thread on Eratosphere, I alluded to my own Christianity and to what I had always assumed was stone-cold atheism on her part. Imagine my surprise upon discovering meditations like the following among her works:
Mrs Buggins Considers The Big One
read by Ann Drysdale
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I worry sometimes how it will be after
the tunnel, you know, which sounds like
the Tube, without the tourists, but lots
of neon and rushing noise. Yes, I shall go
towards the Light. Try and stop me.
I’ll be hurtling, hurdling any unwary cherubim
that get in my way. But no, to be serious,
when I get there, if there is a There,
and if I get there, what will it be like?
I worry, you see, that they’ll be right
and I’ll be wrong. So many say they know:
gurus, mystics, priests, all those smug
snug believers, even the Jehovah’s Witnesses,
will they be there, shaking their haloed heads,
trying not to smirk, not to say I told you so,
as I’m directed to the Basement? And will God
be there? I nearly said He but I’ve never believed
in a God with Sex — but It sounds odd — then God
is odd, at least to a mere mortal like me.
What can Cosmic emotions be? Doesn’t Love
grown so vast start to get echoey and cold?
But I like to think God will be there
and speak without words, take me gently
without hands, laugh at me for my questions
but answer all with endless patience.
I hope there will be trumpets too.
Mrs Buggins was a practical, working-class housewife character of the British wireless from 1928 through 1948, famous for being able to stretch wartime rations and make do with what was available—thus providing excellent narration for an agnostic’s attempts to cobble together some workaday faith in a pinch. (The image of comfort and joy that ends this 2006 poem is another of Maz’s fictions that I hope is “completely true.”)
The following 2003 sonnet shows a deep skepticism about religion—whether of the organized or disorganized variety—paired with a compulsion to investigate what religion might be able to offer:
read by Ann Drysdale
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Please don’t think I’ll laugh. I’ve been there too;
grief makes us clutch at straws. I numbed my bum
on creaky chapel chair and New Age pew,
my ears awash with Sacred Muzak, dumb
before a knot of knowing boys and girls
pop-eyed with higher thoughts, the psychic crew
attuned to other planes, dispensing pearls
of comfort for the hopeful, faithful, few.
One night, as I looked round a dingy hall—
torn posters for a talk on UFOs,
a verse from Rumi on the eastern wall,
the fey clairvoyant spouting fuchsia prose—
my mother muttered, from some inner space,
‘You wouldn’t catch me dead in this damn place.’
Ironically, a religious gathering does eventually succeed in putting the narrator in touch with her deceased mother…
Another narrator explains his reluctance to join public services in different terms:
Chester Arnessy explains religion
Jimmy Bole had a bad eye from the war. The iris
rolled up into his skull, and left the bulge blank.
It looked sinister, but you knew it wasn’t meant.
When he served nails and bolts and tools,
it was hard not to gaze into that white space.
I wrenched my sight back and concentrated
on the glittering green eye, that saw. It took
determination, real focus. Jimmy died of a heart attack
last fall. His store was taken over by a chain.
Now young men with two good eyes flash
slick smiles and don’t know much. I saw
Jimmy’s niece going into chapel. She stopped
and chatted. I looked at the big oak doors
but didn’t follow her. God has only one good eye,
and I’ve always been talking to the other one.
In spite of Chester Arnessy’s implied confidence that whatever “looked sinister” about God’s demeanor “wasn’t meant,” the narrator of this 2006 poem skips chapel to avoid the discomfort of further contemplation. However, his willingness to give God the benefit of the doubt is, in itself, an act of faith.
In contrast with Chester’s uneasy avoidance, Maz had cast A.A. Milne’s Christopher Robin in a role of direct confrontation in 2004. There is a glaring lack of innocence in the grievances and the diction used to express them in “Christopher Robin Muses on Religion,” but the blunt tetrameter gives the piece a childishly accusatory feel. The poem ends,
You’re not as blameless as they claim.
I think you have another name.
I think you are both dark and light
and creep about in secret night
with Satan’s horns and twitching tail,
and chuckle when your creatures fail.
I think you are a wicked sod.
Sometimes I don’t like you, God.
“Christopher Robin Muses on Religion” interests me mainly for the light it sheds on a fierce 2006 sonnet, “A conversation with the dark,” whose narrator contends with a cloven-hooved figure. I had at first seen “the dark” as simply a personification of Death. But given Maz’s use of “Satan’s horns and twitching tail” two years earlier, this could well be a fantasy of wrestling, Jacob-like, with God—who would presumably be a better source of answers to frustrating (chicken-egg) questions than Death would.
A conversation with the dark
read by Ann Drysdale
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So tired of it, you bastard, tired of waiting,
tired of halt-breath time, anticipating
your cloven footfalls on my ribs — so blast
your eyes and ears — it’s in my hands at last.
You sit like dust again behind the door.
I yank it wide to seize your hair, and roar,
I have you now! And slighter than I knew.
It was your shadow I had feared, not you.
I grasp you, grip you in my termite jaws,
you pissant prick. I seize you in my claws
and squeeze, you rat-turd, arse-wipe, moldwarp, minge.
The stalker stuck, laddo, too late to whinge.
I’ve grabbed you, gagged you, so don’t try to beg.
Shut your throat and listen: Chicken. Egg.
Another fantasized battle with God takes place over a chessboard:
I met with God along the Pilgrim’s way.
We shared a six-pack on the trampled verge,
and when He asked me if I’d like to play
a game of travel-chess, I felt the urge
to question Him, though I was rather shy
and doubtful of the Lordly etiquette.
As He set out the pieces, I asked “Why?”
God echoed “Why you suffer? I forget.”
“Are we just pawns?” I asked, and moved one out.
He chose a knight to leap the humble rank,
and said “Don’t ask Me what that’s all about;
the bishops say it’s Satan you must thank.”
I carped “The Primal Cause is You, alone!”
God said “I’d love to chat, but that’s My phone.”
As unsatisfying as this exchange is, it’s still more conversational than “A conversation with the dark,” in which the ranting narrator demands answers but is in no mood to listen. Still, by staging “Playing God” around a chessboard, Maz has again conflated God with Death. As she points out in this 2002 poem’s discussion thread at The P.O.E.M.S. Place, “I often use humour to deal with serious religious problems. The last line does echo an agnostic’s frustration at the lack of answers, I’m afraid. Also, in part, it’s my little homage to that marvelous old film The Seventh Seal, where Death plays chess with the knight.”
“Beloved” and “The One Hears an Occasional Bomb,” both written in the summer of 2005, are two of many poems that illustrate why Margaret had difficulties with the idea of a caring, attentive God. The first features a religiously-motivated suicide bomber:
He held the Beloved carefully,
feeling her weight, her promise.
She coiled around his waist
like his dead sister’s arms.
Tomorrow, we will do God’s work,
he murmured. We will go
to the marketplace, into the press
of people, so I can bring you
close to them, and you can bring
them close to God. With every step,
I will pray, and see the ache
in every face which we have come
to end. O Beloved, do not fail me.
In the last ecstasy of blast
and metal fused to flesh,
carry me to heaven.
The second of these poems, not quoted here in its entirety, compares God’s apparent lack of involvement to that of a dispassionate filmmaker, who does not intervene in the lives of his documentary’s subjects:
The One hears a bomb, and shakes his head.
He watches like a tired tele-journalist
documenting a pride of lions. They sleep, rise, kill, eat,
sleep. He does not interfere. That is not his business.
He watches. Sometimes a colour, an image, catches him
unawares. The refraction in the holy lens swells
into a droplet of light. A jackal moves on the outskirts
of his pride. He grew fond of it and named it Death.
Sometimes he feeds it. His pride feeds itself.
According to Christians, the ultimate example of God’s loving intervention in the lives of “his pride” is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I therefore wondered what Maz would have to say about the idea of a Messiah.
And—oh dear—I found out. In 2002’s vivid, visceral “Christus Sissifactus,” Margaret’s narrator uses witheringly dismissive language to describe the stereotypical depictions of Jesus. (The Kewpie doll and Nietzsche bits are particularly contemptuous.) The poem begins:
I knew his toes were pedicured, his feet
long, like his limbs, though
Josephus says that he was squat.
I saw him in my Bible, the nose
aquiline, never hooked, the Gentile-est
of Jews, a pale Pre-Raphaelite saviour
in freshly minted nightgown,
soft Dickensian eyes brimming
with masochistic Messianic rapture.
Hoist his hems and he’d be
smoothly forked as a Kewpie doll.
Too many images of a desert dandy,
Christ the simperer, Christ
coiffeured with pageboy bob,
a stroke of kohl, a dab
of myrrh, Emmanuel who wouldn’t
shrink from a little moisturizer
to counteract the sandy winds.
No wonder Nietzsche despised
the dim defeated wretch.
Because the sneeringly homophobic imagery seems to be throwing the uncharitable attitudes of many so-called Christians back in their faces, I braced myself for a wholesale junking of Christianity after the second stanza. To my astonishment, from that point on the poem seems, on the surface level at least, to form an aggressively positive statement of Christ:
But what about Spencer’s Jesus,
thickset and Semitic? By God, that Christ
might have roared, have done dark deeds
when the sun slept, turned the Red Sea
into burgundy and drunk and belched
and farted like a dreaming dog. That Christ
who cradled scorpions in his palm,
could suffer like a man and bleed
real blood instead of watered wine.
That man, with rough love, could hoist
the world upon his shoulders
and grunt like Atlas. A man like that
could make the Mount his sermon, resurrect
the temples and hammer stars back into place.
These third and fourth stanzas strongly endorse Sir Stanley Spencer’s representations in his series of paintings, “Christ in the wilderness.” (The Art Gallery of Western Australia, which purchased the entire series in 2005, has made it available for viewing in a two-page PDF file at http://www.artgallery.wa.gov.au/collections/documents/spencer_conv.pdf.)
Granted, from an agnostic standpoint one could still argue that Margaret’s narrator is simply preferring Spencer’s fiction to the Pre-Raphaelite one, and that by sticking to the conditional coulds she’s clearly not quite buying into Spencer’s portrait, either. But in the context of Maz’s own physical suffering, the rejection of passivity and victimhood and tepidity could not be any more vehement. It is the more realistic Jesus who might have “drunk and belched/ and farted”—and would thus have also had the ability to “suffer like a man and bleed/ real blood instead of watered wine”—who tempts the narrator to believe in his miraculous ability to “hoist/ the world upon his shoulders,” etc.
I’m not sure what to make of Margaret’s inclusion of “could make the Mount his sermon” within the final sentence’s catalog of muscular miracles. It so happens that, as I write this, I’m also in the midst of preparing a children’s liturgy for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 30, 2011), on the subject of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12a)—a speech by Jesus also known as the Sermon on the Mount. Catholic teaching presents the Beatitudes as a positive counterpart to the Ten Commandments—in effect, the dos to balance the don’ts. So I’m quite happy to take Maz’s reference at face value, interpreting her allusion as a celebration of the things I saw Margaret model in her dealings with other poetry workshop participants. Humility. Compassion. Hunger and thirst for justice. Defense of the underdog. Virtues often presented in passive pastels…but Maz paints them boldly and vibrantly.
I’d dearly love to be able to leave on that note. But, this being Margaret we’re talking about, she refuses to be pigeonholed quite so neatly. Several things suggest that “the Mount” might not merely be shorthand for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Early in “Christus Sissifactus,” Maz rejects the image of a sexless Christ, “smoothly forked as a Kewpie doll.” This at least opens the possibility that “the Mount” might have a sexual connotation. Then there’s the fact that Spencer also painted a series called “The Beatitudes of Love” which is sexually explicit (although it does not feature Jesus). Finally, Margaret’s 2003 poem “Carnival” dwells on sexual temptation in the context of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness; that sonnet also contains a probable reference to Spencer in “the eagle with her bloodied breast,” a prominent feature of the painting “Christ in the wilderness: The eagles.” (Incidentally, there is also at least a hint of eroticism in her poem “Noli Me Tangere,” which examines Jesus’ greeting of Mary Magdelene after his Resurrection.) Despite all this, I’d still like to think that Margaret is referring to Jesus’ Beatitudes, not Spencer’s, as a means of re-ordering things, truly analogous to “resurrect[ing] / the temples and hammer[ing] stars back into place.”
The 2004 poem “3 Mormons or Whatever” vaguely reminds me of a few other paintings from Spencer’s “Christ in the wilderness” series. The landscape of the poem is similarly bleak, although Spencer’s tends to be hilly, not “a wide plain.” The burial hole suggests Spencer’s “Rising from sleep in the morning,” although Spencer’s subject seems to rise from the crater, while Margaret’s “lay down unresisting in the hole.” Maz’s reference to the fox’s tail and snout evoke the same features in “The foxes have holes,” although Spencer’s foxes are ruddy, not tan. But the characterization of representatives of organized religion, who bear “salt” water and “unlit” lanterns while burying the narrator (perhaps Jesus?) “with murmurous prayer,” seems to be all Maz’s. Significantly, “the sound of their retreating boots” is what awakens her (or him) to life and abundance in nature.
Foxes and rituals also feature prominently in “Tantivvy” and “Vix.” Maz’s animal-themed poems—a topic for another essay—often have spiritual overtones, but I’ll conclude with this 2004 depiction of a peaceful, beautiful transition into death.
Listening to the Dog
read by Ann Drysdale
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My dog is teaching me to die. He explains that humans
think too much, confuse thinking with wisdom. Each moment,
he says, is a world that time cannot touch. I had forgotten.
His course begins with learning how to gather up flesh,
with feeling the brain open like a flower, the taking in of breath
hard, until it burns the lungs. Lungs will not be needed.
I will seize his shaggy throat and he will pull me through the elements
as the dolphin drew Arion up through the eye she had made
in the skin of the sea. Eyes will not be needed. Vision will become
being. Beyond there will be grass greener than the smell of rain
and no sadness. I believe him. We carry our feeding bowls out
into the garden and fill them with sun. Bowls will not be needed.
In retrospect, I feel silly ever to have been surprised that Margaret would devote such energy to spiritual and theological themes. Of course Maz would have been fascinated with ideas about God and the afterlife—and not only because she was struggling with a condition that she knew was fatal. Since faith always involves belief in unprovable truths, it makes perfect sense that a poet who regularly resurveyed the line between truth and fiction would have fixed her gaze on religion, from several different viewpoints—atheistic, agnostic, heretical, and traditionalist. As if those perspectives weren’t enough, several poems about angels, demons, sorcerers, and fairies permit her some additional imaginative angles. Many of Margaret’s pieces reject traditional Judeo-Christian concepts, and as a practicing Catholic I often disagree strongly with her conclusions. Even so, I can’t help but admire—even envy—the ardor of Margaret’s vigorous search for answers.