I Come to the Garden

I can name so few flowers. This is why
I’m not a better poet. Shakespeare knew
oxlip and gillyvor and eglantine,
while I, beyond camellia, violet, rose,
and lily, am reduced to saying, “There,
those crinkly yellow things!” Out on a walk
with mad John Clare, I’d learn a dozen names
for plants, and bless the wonders underfoot.
“More servants wait on man,” George Herbert said,
“than he’ll take notice of.” I know it’s true,
although I’ve never had observant eyes.
Would I care more if my heart’s soil were deep
enough for herbs and loves to take firm root?
Mine is a gravel garden, where the rake
does all the cultivation I can take.

“I Come to the Garden” by Gail White

Published in First Things, April 2012

Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, 1650-1683

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With The Bath Water

When data started to accumulate,
we didn’t think the end would be so tragic.
Facts were such fun, we could eliminate
non-facts. And so we threw away the magic,
the charms, the spells, the powers that removed
all obstacles, the sacred images
that won our wars, brought lover to beloved.
Then we threw out the demigods, the muse,
the spirits in the fountains, planets, trees,
followed by symbols, sacraments—what use
did modern myth-free mortals have for these?
Our reason set no limit to our pride.
Did we kill God, or was it suicide?

“With the Bath Water” by Gail White

Published in First Things, February 2015

The FatesMichaelangelo

Domestic Incident

I hear my neighbor smashing his guitar
against the wall. He’s done it once before
when in a rage. This time he can’t afford
to get another. They’re expensive things.
And yet he loved that wooden box with strings
more than his wife. (Their daughters sit afraid
and wordless under his bizarre tirade.)
Should I call 911, report a case
of spouse abuse? He hasn’t touched her face
or body, simply bellows that she keeps him
from his writing, hovers while he sleeps . . .
She wouldn’t thank me. She remains unmoved,
shelters her little girls and simply waits
while he destroys the only thing he loved
rather than strike the woman that he hates.

“Domestic Incident” by Gail White

Published in First Things, November 2015

Narcissus” by Caravaggio, 1597

A Complaint of the Times

So much regulation and so few lives saved,
So much loud music and so little melody,
So many doctorates and none wiser made,
Such license in the name of liberty,
  So much compassion preached, so little shown,
  Since the world’s beginning there was never known.

So much production of so many shoddy goods,
So little saving and so much money spent,
So many rulings so little understood,
Such lavish shows and such poor amusement,
  So many bureaus fat and purses lean
  Since the world’s beginning there was never seen.

So much to bed, so little marrying,
So many new police and no less crime,
So many churches built, so few prayed in,
So many new dollars not worth a dime,
  So much speculation on so little ground
  Since the world’s beginning there was never found.

So much change of fashion and no beauty gained,
So much expense so little justified,
So many principles so ill explained,
So much self-praising with so little pride,
  So much prophecy of ruin and so little heed,
  Since the world’s beginning can no scholars read.

“A Complaint of the Times” by Gail White

Published in First Things, October 2007