Theological

But there’s a God, white-knuckled, jealous,
His heart an anvil, and his mind a bomb.
Take the crew of The Indianapolis,*
Torn limb from sculling limb inside a storm
Of sharks. There is no sleep within that slick
Of blood, only that gray mumbling that turns
A prayer into another prayer, a wrecked
Voice growing less and less as the sea churns
With fins and teeth. Few knew how their mission—
Top secret even unto themselves—
Made every sailor promethean.
All earned retribution for ignorance.
Twelve hundred pleas factor to a single sum
Beneath a sky whose will was merely done.

*The sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945 was the single greatest loss of life in US Navy history.

 

GPS

In those days, the student cabbies of London rode
The streets on Mopeds, clipboards fixed to farings,
Memorizing roads for nothing less than three years.
Tweedy heavy men with blockish black framed
NHS spectacles and white helmets,
They mastered the tangles of these alleyways,
The bailiwicks of these one-ways, these muses
Like verses in a Torah read to the easing crawl
Of sudden stopping-starting bumpers.
To make a mind fit such circuses, roundabouts
And twists is to know the nexus of a sprawl down
To the rarest road (somewhere west of Elephant),
And be the rabbi of the least address.
Tonight I follow a digital voice.

 

Andrew Miller is a poet, critic and translator with over eighty publications to my name. He is an American writing from Denmark where he has been living now for the last eighteen years. 
 

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14 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    Interesting to blame God for the tragedy of the Indianapolis and not him who sunk the ship.
    Does that same God get credit for liberating the death camps or the responsibility for the millions who died in them?

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      This is the old fluff of failed, academic modernism: cynical, arrogant, and ideologically programmed. The work a middle-class mind who must have picked up his anti-Christian bigotry in the public school system.

      Reply
  2. James Ph. Kotsybar

    If I may, Joe Tessitore, you are missing the viewpoint of this poem’s main character — the perspective of the everyman Navy sailor, each or all with the same questions and
    prayers, under an indifferent sky. I believe the poet is taking a harsh look at a Navel tragedy, under a God with anvil heart and explosive mind, but not assigning blame, unless it is to ignorance.

    Reply
    • Joe Tessitore

      I think you’ve twisted yourself into an intellectual pretzel.
      There is no main character, and you can’t write about a white-knuckled, jealous god with an anvil for a heart and a bomb for a mind and not be assigning blame.

      PS Your last sentence opens with “I believe the poet is taking a harsh look at a belly button tragedy…”

      Reply
  3. War di Belecuse

    Why I like Mr. Miller’s “Theological,” is he presents an important topic, and then proceeds to declaim upon it; and though Mr. Miller’s sonnet is chock-a-block with rough metrical lines, it is not that dissimilar to many sonnets in the New Millennium. The opening line is reminiscent of Donne; and indeed, so is the entire poem. Though it lacks the polish, subtlety, and vibracy of Donne’s greatest poems, it still possesses some of the dynamic power of that Baroque artist’s lesser works.

    I think the violence of language Mr. Miller uses befits its topic; which is indeed complex; perhaps more than the poet can handle. The slant rhymes work, as do the ungrammatical sentence and the clumsy metre, in showing the awkward desperation in the tone. It seems the author is striving for a Lucretian attitude, as evinced in his title and text, but without that Roman poet’s artistry. However, if, by living abroad, the poet does not seem that connected to America, as he has stated at Rattle, as the poem shows, he can’t quite let America go.

    Here is a poem for consideration and comparison.

    For the Men of the USS Indianapolis: 1945
    by War di Belecuse
    “The very deep did rot: O Christ!”
    —S. T. Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

    The ship had just completed its quick trip to Tinian,
    with the first atom bomb e’er used in war by anyone,
    and then proceeded on to Leyte in the Philippines,
    through waters still patrolled by Japanese-helmed submarines.

    Torpedoed by I-58, it sank, o, hapless souls,
    in but twelve minutes, down it went—the͡ Indianapolis.
    With heavy thrump, about 300 went down with the ship,
    the rest then facing horror on this wretched, fated trip.

    Exposure, dehydration, deadly water-salt and sharks,
    a thousand slimy things surrounding them in vicious arcs.
    More than 500 more Americans died in that sea;
    and after four days there were left, 317.

    An orphan’s curse can drag to hell a spirit from on high;
    and an ungrateful person can spit in a dead man’s eye;
    so let me honour them for fervent, heart-felt loyalty;
    for, Christ, those sailors gave their lives for countrymen, like me.

    Reply
  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Only one commentator here has noted a crucial thing about Miller’s poem “Theological” — its allusion to the fact that the Indianapolis was the ship that delivered components of the atomic bomb to Tinian, where it was assembled and sent off on its deadly mission over Japan. The lines

    …Few knew how their mission–
    Top secret even unto themselves–
    Made every sailor promethean.
    All earned retribution for ignorance…

    suggest that the men aboard the Indianapolis were in some way guilty for the mission they had taken part in, and their suffering was a just “retribution.” This is patently absurd: the sailors on the Indianapolis were legitimate combatants carrying out legitimate orders in time of war. Moreover, they were kept completely in the dark as to their ship’s mission and cargo. Calling them “promethean” (i.e. rebellious against divine authority) makes no sense at all.

    In addition, no one can blame the commander of the Japanese submarine for the sinking of the Indianapolis. He too was a legitimate combatant carrying out a legitimate act of war in an active combat zone. In fact, after the war the Japanese commander was summoned to the United States to testify at the naval inquiry into the sinking of the Indianapolis. He was neither arrested nor charged with any crime at all.

    As for blaming God for the incident, that is beyond absurdity.

    The real critique of this poem should be for its haphazard metrics (partially iambic pentameter, partially syllabic, and partially unclear).

    Reply
    • Joe Tessitore

      I don’t think the author was interested in the finer point of “legitimate combatant”.
      I do think this was a rant against God and the tragedy of the Indianapolis was used to illustrate the point.
      The fact that many of us didn’t comment on the connection to the atomic bomb doesn’t mean we were unaware of it.
      I first learned about it (and memorably so) from the movie “Jaws”.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Mr. Tessitore is correct — criticism should not be focused on the truth or falsity of a poet’s argument, but primarily on the technical composition of his poem. Miller’s poem suffers from its weak metrics, and its heavy dependence on slant-rhyme and off-rhyme.

        But logic is an additional component of a poem’s aesthetics, and if the argumentative structure of a piece is glaringly deficient, that is also fair game for aesthetic criticism. The Indianapolis sinking was not a tragedy, but merely an incident in the fortunes of war. No one was “to blame.” There was no “crime” to be expiated. Soldiers and sailors are pawns in the chess game of battle, and it is part of their job description to die sometimes.

        Miller suggests that a vengeful, angry God brought about the ship’s sinking, and that the sailors who died were being punished for something that they did even know about. But this simply makes no logical sense. No individual human person was responsible, either morally or legally, for what happened. Even the naval inquiry into the Indianapolis incident was brought about purely by political pressure from enraged civilians seeking to find a convenient scapegoat. It is typical of Americans to want to assign “blame” for every bad thing that happens, and to crucify some imagined malefactor.

        The very same thing occurred when the Texas 36th Division was totally savaged by the Germans at the Rio Rapido during the Anzio campaign. Political outrage among civilians in Texas forced a useless inquiry into “why” our men were beaten so badly. Well, the answer is simple: soldiers sometimes lose battles. It’s a fact of life.

        But my real objection is to Miller’s notion that “God” must be some angry and maleficent monster who deals out death and destruction to helpless humans. What kind of theology, other than a free-floating Calvinism, comes up with this idea? To understand what I mean, compare Miller’s poem with Thomas Hardy’s short one on the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 (“The Convergence of the Twain”). Hardy’s agnostic/atheist mindset was honest enough not to blame “God” (an empty category for a non-believer), but simply to describe the coming together of the Titanic and the iceberg as due to blind “convergence,” brought about by the Immanent Will of the universe. Joseph MacKenzie will be quick to point out that the metaphysics of this is creaky, and I heartily agree — but Hardy’s poem is still more intellectually and aesthetically satisfying than Miller’s, which attacks “God” but presents no theological or metaphysical justification for doing so.

  5. Charles Southerland

    I’m a Calvinist. Miller ain’t. He might be confused though. His metrics are worse than Donne’s— by a lot.

    Reply
  6. David Paul Behrens

    Although I believe in God I also believe God is way beyond our comprehension and beyond our abilities and desires to explain, accuse, defend or blame God, or not. There are only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet. The God I believe in has no such limitations and is not confined to the limits of human thoughts. When it comes to human tragedies, we should blame ourselves and leave God out of it. Dylan wrote
    “If God is on our side, he’ll stop the next war.” Maybe it is more complicated than that. Who knows? I know I sure don’t.

    Reply
    • Joe Tessitore

      As far as the heavens are above the earth, so far are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.
      Isaiah 55:9

      Reply
  7. Wendy Bourke

    Brilliant writing – a pleasure to read. ‘Theological’, in particularly, is very impactful … haunting … and I found the conversation that it generated, fascinating and edifying.

    Reply

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