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Truth Is Not Beauty

“What is the worst mistake you ever made in bed?”
Reply: “My son.”  (Actual dialogue on social media)

I learn the truth; I’m more and more aggrieved.
There’s nothing left, no gleam or glint of hope
When parents wish their children weren’t conceived.

What bitter spoils of knowledge I’ve achieved
To “stay informed;” how can I even cope?
I learn the truth; I’m more and more aggrieved.

I can’t unsee: the whole world’s been deceived.
Their thinking’s worse when sober than on dope
When parents wish their children weren’t conceived.

I wish my innocence could be retrieved.
Oh, someone wash my memory out with soap!
I learn the truth; I’m more and more aggrieved.

It’s worse than I would ever have believed
And harder not to be a misanthrope
When parents wish their children weren’t conceived.

When children die, are parents still bereaved?
What can I do besides just sit and mope?
I learn the truth; I’m more and more aggrieved
When parents wish their children weren’t conceived.

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The Choice

“I would happily give up absolutely any comfort or
convienence [sic] to have my [then seven, now ten]
children. I’d eat beans and rice in a trailer with
them in a heartbeat.”
—Kendra Tierney, blogger at Catholic All Year

I

I could move out of my trailer,
Eat some meat and veggies too,
Buy a bed from a retailer,
Rent a penthouse with a view.
I could visit somewhere sunny,
Buy some clothes without the holes,
But instead I spend my money
Raising ten immortal souls!

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II

We live in a trailer and eat beans and rice.
You say our ten children have made us too poor?
Then the life of the rich comes at too high a price,
For family’s the gift that shall always endure.

previously published in New English Review

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Censored Beauty

The modern reader’s such a prude,
He’ll brand me both depraved and crude
If I should write about conception,
Where sperm and egg become one flesh
And both their genes together mesh
To cause a human life’s inception—
Unless I preach the modern creed
That women just need men for seed.

Without this prudishness of others,
I’d write of pregnant and nursing mothers,
Of how through womb (and later, breast),
Just as her body’s made to do
(Though saying so is now taboo),
A mother feeds her honored guest.
The only pregnancy they’ll fail
To censor is a pregnant “male.”

But God keeps calling me to write
The Truth I see beneath His light.
I won’t deign to accept a duty
Not to trespass from the box
Of placid verse that never shocks;
I won’t stop writing truth as beauty.
They always say, “Write what you know.”
I know His Truth; that’s what I show.

previously published in New English Review

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Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives in the American Heartland.  His poetry has also been published in Snakeskin, The Lyric, Sparks of Calliope, Westward Quarterly, New English Review, and many others, and his short fiction has been published in several journals as well.


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31 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    The 1st is one the best villanelles I’ve seen here. The 2nd & 3rd, though outspokenly defiant, are very positive and appropriately so.
    Today, visiting Incarnation Church in the Orlando diocese, I saw a startling number of pregnant women at Mass, and an only slightly less noticeable number of infants and toddlers. It was what I should think of as something to be expected.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Julian. My experience at Mass where I am is similar, thanks be to God!

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    I’m partial to villanelles, so “Truth Is Not Beauty” is my favorite. It touches on the widespread (and largely ignored) anti-natalism of our time, and the title is a necessary corrective for much contemporary wishful thinking. Truth is sometimes ugly and unpleasant.

    If I could make one small suggestion: Rather than the phrase “weren’t conceived” (which makes the meter bumpy), how about “un-conceived”? I know it’s an unusual form, but it seems to fit in better with the parental regret.

    As for “The Choice,” all I can say is God bless and protect Kendra Tierney and her family. May they live long and prosper, and may their love for each other and for God grow strong.

    “Censored Beauty” adds to the recent discussions here about the sick left-liberal need to straitjacket and strangle human language to suit woke ideological perversions and lies. And I’m glad Joshua has noted that this modern impulse is based in “prudishness,” which is a cultic need not to discuss certain subjects without putting them through a customs-check that prevents reality from intruding into the debate.

    Joshua has cleared the air:

    1) There are only two sexes: men and women.
    2) There is no such thing as “gender,” except as a grammatical category.
    3) Only women can get pregnant, give birth, and suckle babies.
    4) Trying to transition from one sex to the other is nothing but a meaningless and degrading form of self-mutilation.

    Saying these truths openly is “to trespass from the box.” Good work, Joshua.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Joe!

      I got so sick of those stupid lines from Keats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Whoever is supposed to be saying these lines (and there is debate) was delusional. Hence the title. The rest was, of course, based on actual lines I saw online and quoted in the epigraph. Just the fact that someone could say this, even as a joke, shows an inkling of how far our culture has fallen.

      As for the meter, I pronounce “weren’t” as one syllable: “when PA-rents WISH their CHIL-dren WEREN’T con-CEIVED.” For me, “wish their children un-conceived” sounds a bit awkward.

      “The Choice” is meant to encapsulate Mrs. Tierney’s rebuttal to the common financial argument for so-called “natural family planning” (I don’t care what anyone says, it’s a form of birth control), which essentially amounts to, “But if I bring one more soul into existence, I have to pay to feed its body, and then I can’t have my expensive toys.” It’s as disgusting as transgenderism.

      Yes, “Censored Beauty” was written against the woke narrative you describe, but also against our culture’s disgust toward the natural processes of conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, as well as toward men praising the beauty of women. I’ve been branded as a lecher by detractors for even daring to speak of these things, and I’m not just talking about the one I mentioned in a reply to a comment a few poems ago.

      Modern culture hates procreation and loves death. If that’s the box, then we need to trespass from it.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        A small footnote to this: In Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World,” the word “mother” is considered an unspeakable obscenity. Huxley could see far ahead of his time.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Yes, that was the first thing I thought of when people started insisting on saying “birthing person.”

  3. C.B. Anderson

    All three poems are sharp and created according to the highest standards. At times, the poet seems to be the second coming of Jordan Peterson. I only wish I had set the bar so high for myself.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, C.B.! That’s indeed high praise, especially from a poet as prolific as yourself.

      Reply
  4. Gigi Ryan

    Dear Joshua,

    I love the villanelle! I learned a new word, thank you. (Misanthrope.) My favorite lines are, “I wish my innocence could be retrieved, O, someone one wash my memory out with soap!”

    I can relate to the poems about beans and rice and living in a trailer; we had 8 children when we lived in our camper for three months to live near my dying father-in-law. The kids have great memories from that season…and we ate a lot of rice (cooked in a rice cooker) since the stove was too small to cook much of anything for 10 mouths. Admittedly we were glad to return to our home…but I have no regrets.

    The ending line of the last poem in the series is an appropriate conclusion for these – “I know His Truth; that’s what I show.”
    Gigi

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Gigi. I like those lines too; I would never have come up with them without the constraints of rhyme and meter.

      That story about you living in a trailer with your children needs to be heard by as many as possible. What if you wrote a poem about it?

      Reply
  5. Warren Bonham

    All 3 of these are timely and hit the mark. I’m glad you haven’t given up writing. If truth-tellers give up, we’re doomed.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Warren. No, I just haven’t been on for a while because I’ve been extremely busy with work-related things and have barely had time to write in the last few weeks. The good thing is, I had plenty of stuff written beforehand, enough to spare for here and New English Review; I’ve submitted a few more to Evan for later this month.

      Reply
  6. Brian A. Yapko

    Josh, all three of these poems are exceptional in form and daring in substance. The villanelle is my favorite of the three because of your fine rhymes and poetic technique, but the story behind the poem is so upsetting. “Truth is not beauty indeed.” I can’t imagine being a parent and telling a child that he or she was a mistake. What a horrible burden to lay on an innocent person! Your indignation is absolutely right and I am glad you have shared it with us.

    “The Choice” is, of course, a 180 degree turn in attitude from “Truth” and demonstrates that unselfish love is a far more noble thing than narcissistic self-indulgence. “The life of the rich comes at too high a price” is a stand-out line.

    “Censored Beauty” is a “tell it like it is” poem which has a message which may be bitter for feminists, but the facts are the facts. One man and one woman are needed to conceive a baby and everything else is the injection of unscientific ideology into basic biology. That leftists are so readily willing to make it all about the ideology is greatly hypocritical. With this as their pet social engineering project based on 100% subjective psychological factors, it is hard not to label them “science deniers.”

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Brian! Of course, everything you’ve said here is spot on. See my reply to Joseph Salemi.

      If someone were trying to design a system to turn people away from all that gives life meaning, it would look almost exactly like leftism.

      Reply
  7. Daniel Kemper

    I’m a sucker for villanelles and I liked this one as well. Lots said here that needs to be said. I love the attention to precise meter. I particularly like that you juxtapose “poverty” and children/large families. If you pan back for just a second, that’s the prime assertion abortionists make, human life has a price called “a better income.” And yet I’ve not seen studies that show even that crooked ideology has actually been accomplished by those who have abortions.

    On Keats, yeah. I love him as a poet, but he did bellyflop a few times. [More happy love etc.] I’ve said so and gotten excoriated for it. In a setting that one would have had expectation of better treatment. Glad to see I’m not the only one who can balance a viewpoint.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Daniel. That’s precisely my point. In Catholic circles, people know the Church forbids artificial birth control, but they still want to live as their unbelieving neighbors do, so they push the loophole wrongly known as “natural family planning,” in which people try to avoid bringing children into existence by avoiding the marital act at certain times of the month. Whoever likened this to planting corn in the dead of winter to avoid a bountiful harvest was right on the money.

      Anyway, I’ve written poems about that before, and Catholics have gone after me for them because I attack their cherished lifestyle of expensive toys and 1.3 children. They tell me I know nothing on the matter because I’m single (to which I say that my poems are based on real people who are in a position to know from experience). They invariably cite the red herring of poverty, so I’ve cited the example of what Kendra Tierney has said on the matter. What they won’t address is that there is not one argument for any kind of “family planning” that doesn’t justify artificial contraception, and there is not one argument for contraception of any kind that doesn’t also justify abortion, because contraception necessitates abortion as a backup for when it inevitably fails.

      Our society has degenerated so far that even otherwise fervent Catholics value worldly goods over bringing eternal souls to life. It’s disgusting.

      But, as Salman Rushdie said, “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” Also to be a voice for those society wants silenced because what they have to say is inconvenient.

      And, yes, whoever was speaking that line in Keats’ poem was dead wrong. People need to understand: Keats is not God.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Joshua, you have just brought up an intellectual problem that has bedeviled the Catholic position on contraception for years, and which as far as I can tell has never been adequately addressed.

        Back in the early 1960s, when the issue of contraception was being hotly debated in the atmospherics of Vatican 2 (this was before Humanae Vitae in 1968), the subject was being discussed in the pages of National Review. The magazine wasn’t a neocon rag back then.

        One Catholic theology professor wrote in to say “Contraception isn’t wrong because it makes use of rubber condoms or pills or other devices. It’s wrong because it represents a deliberate intention to limit the chances for the conception of a new life.”

        An astute commentator replied “So does rhythm.”

        This struck me with great logical force. If the sin lies in the desire to prevent conception, what makes the rhythm method any different from pills or condoms? How is it any less sinful?

        When I brought up this point in a discussion with a Jesuit friend, he was nonplussed for a few moments. Then he swallowed hard and said “If you look upon rhythm as periodic abstinence, it’s not a sin. If you look upon it as periodic intercourse, it’s sinful.”

        I thought that this was six of one or half a dozen of the other, and I recalled that my Jesuit professors were always adept at this kind of casuistry.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The views of Luther and Calvin are not surprising, since those views were standard among all Christian denominations, and were still very strong in Prtotestant circles in the 19th century.

        This is why the pre-eminent female proponent of contraception in the 19th century, Ida Craddock, was completely opposed to condoms and pessaries or concoctions that would prevent conception, and was also ferociously anti-abortion. She considered all of these methods to be unnatural and murderous.

        Craddock instead urged that males practice coitus reservatus, where the man deliberately holds back from ejaculation during intercourse with his wife.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Of course, that distinction was completely imaginary, too. Once you get away from the Biblical concept of the purpose of sexuality (“not for fleshly lust… but only for the love of posterity, in which thy [God’s] name may be blessed for ever and ever,” Tobias 8:9), all bets are off. Once you can declare one part of God’s Law null and void, the rest of it is subject to whim. It would be just as heretical to deny “Let not the sun go down upon your anger” (Ephesians 4:26) as it would be to deny “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15), because it’s the same authority for both.

        That’s the basic problem with both Protestantism and cafeteria Catholicism. St. Alphonsus was right: “Take away obedience to the Church, and there is no error that will not be embraced.”

        Going back to the subject matter, I recall St. John Vianney once said to a mother of many children: “If you only knew the women who will go to Hell because they did not bring into the world the children they should have given to it.” I’m sure there’s a Dante-type poem in that…

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The problem today, of course, is that R&R Catholics believe that
        “obedience to the Church” means obedience to Bergoglio, with their mindless “Ubi Petrus est, ibi Ecclesia” mantra. I see little difference between them and the cafeteria Catholics.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        I thought R&R was “remain and resist,” where one stays in the Church to cover his bases with God but ignores non-binding statements that conflict with what the faith has always taught through Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium. Have I misunderstood the term?

        Like you, I have met few Catholics (or other kinds of Christians) who see problems with the loopholes. I see this even in “traditionalist” circles. In fact, many insist that not making use of the loopholes is somehow immoral!

        More and more, I find myself believing that we’re in the End Times, that Jesus will come again in my lifetime, or my future children’s lifetimes at the latest.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        R&R can mean “remain and resist,” but it also frequently is taken to mean “recognize and resist.” Belief in the former is perhaps intellectually defensible, but belief in the latter is just a sign of cognitive dissonance. If one actually “recognizes” Bergoglio as a valid Pope, then Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell would never prevail against His Church is false, since Bergoglio is an overt modernist heretic and a very committed anti-Catholic. Recognizing him as the valid successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ is intellectually incoherent.

        A few R&R Catholics have privately confessed to me that they fully understand this, but feel powerless to say so publicly. Even at Michael Matt’s firmly R&R website “The Remnant,” a recent commentator was brave enough to discuss this problem openly, and with an honest admission of his disquiet.

        “Remain and resist” is passive and noncommittal. “Recognize and resist” is simply a way to enable and ratify Bergoglio.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        I’m not even sure it matters in our day-to-day lives whether he’s a legitimate pope or not. Either way, it tries a Catholic’s faith in the doctrine that the Church is protected by God from error. Myself, I won’t worry about it unless he formally requires the faithful to go against the faith.

        He’s gone on record with opinions contrary to the faith, committed sins such as idolatry, and made hiring and firing decisions favoring leftists in Catholic clothing over actual Catholics, but he’s never changed official Church teaching, because the Magisterium is protected from error. There have been bad popes in history, after all.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, I love every one of these bold and admirably wrought poems. Each one shines with a truth and beauty this Woke world we live in has trouble recognizing. My favorite message is number one of “Choice” with the term “immortal souls” shining with the wonder of the greatest gift a parent could give. Our inheritance from Heaven is far superior to any earthly endowment and putting the life of a child above all the riches money can buy is to be encouraged and celebrated. Josh, thank you for the Truth and beauty you have offered all your readers who recognize exactly what it looks like.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Susan! Always nice to hear from you.

      As anyone who reads my poems knows, I believe that existence is the most important gift a parent gives a child, because having any other good, even Heaven itself, presupposes it. A parent who willfully denies existence to any child of his is guilty of a greater crime than infanticide. That’s not merely my opinion, but that of the Doctor of the Church St. John Chrysostom:

      “Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility [oral contraceptives], where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well. . . . Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation.” (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391])

      Yet few, even among otherwise fervent Catholics, will admit this. Mostly, they get angry at the guy who points out that the emperor has no clothes, which is apparently what God keeps calling me to do.

      Reply
  9. Margaret Coats

    Yes, Josh, a family’s the gift that will always endure! I’m so glad to see the Tierney family honored for “raising ten immortal souls.” You make both parts of “The Choice” strong expressions of determination to persevere in openness to life AND in guiding souls to a happy eternity “around the liturgical calendar” (there I’m quoting Kendra’s purpose in using time from her blog). “The Choice” is a good title to contradict the “pro-choice” slogan, since it implies that you celebrate the best choice for a married couple.

    Also interested by your long discussion with Joe Salemi. As he says, what is called “natural family planning” has always presented a position that “bedevils” Catholic thinking. I agree with him that it has not been adequately addressed. But that is because it actually involves the positive question of whether couples are required to have some children if they can, or even to maximize the number of their children. Joe outlines the idea that it is wrong to deliberately intend to limit the chances of conceiving a new life. This can be done not only by devices or drugs or “natural family planning” or “rhythm,” but by avoiding intercourse, with no reference to calculations about when conception is likely to occur. The couple can choose zero chances. A better attitude may be that of one couple I know, “We just do what we want to do, and let God do what He wants to do.” But I think I recall a few couples regarded as saintly who married with the intent never to engage in sex, for example Joseph and Mary.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Margaret. People have dismissed Mrs. Tierney’s statement as coming from “privilege” (typical woke), but the fact remains that this world is not for making money, but making souls.

      To answer your question of “whether couples are required to have some children if they can, or even to maximize the number of their children,” my position is the same as Joe’s. As a Catholic, I believe in “the marriage debt,” as described by St. Thomas Aquinas: https://www.newadvent.org/summa/5064.htm

      I’ve written poems on this topic before, and in them, I make no distinctions like you describe. That’s deliberate. The reason doesn’t matter; the result remains the same, and one eternal soul who could exist doesn’t.

      I hold that even behaviors of any kind known to make one less desirable to one’s spouse, or delay marriage in the first place (beyond a necessary courtship period), are immoral because of the issue of procreation. It is not without reason that people make jokes about others using their personalities as birth control. The Church may not officially say that couples must try for as many children as possible, but that doesn’t mean morality doesn’t require it. As an analogy, the Index of Forbidden Books was repealed because liberal writers were trying to get on the Index, just as I’ve tried getting my name mentioned on the websites of our detractors. It is no longer binding, but it retains its moral force as a general principle, that is, we shouldn’t be reading books that teach things contrary to our faith (exceptions apply if we’re in a position to refute them).

      The couple you describe, in my view, puts quite a bit of trust in themselves, while telling themselves they trust in God—just like everyone else. Just as Satan tempts unmarried people to engage in acts reserved for marriage, he also tempts married couples not to, and is often quite successful on both fronts.

      The Virgin Mary and St. Joseph had a special dispensation because God called them to practice this form of chastity.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Margaret is making a good point about the spiritual (or Josephite) marriage, where the contracting parties agree to live chastely as brother and sister for religious reasons. I believe the French phrase is “mariage blanc.” Many Catholics have done this, for example the French Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain and his wife Raissa.

        There’s nothing wrong with that, just as a married couple may have intercourse even if one of the parties is sterile, or past childbearing age.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Yes, but people have to be called to that, just as they have to be called to marriage itself. St. Thérèse’s parents originally intended to have a Josephite marriage, but God, through their spiritual director, called them to have children.

        God doesn’t call people to limit family size. There’s no special dispensation for that the way there is for a Josephite marriage.

  10. Joshua C. Frank

    I thought you’d all be interested to hear this: my spiritual director knows Kendra Tierney!

    A long time ago, her husband was diagnosed with cancer, and, praise God, they decided to have as many children as possible while he was still alive. (If he were still alive, they would have had more.) But now she’s about to remarry and plans to try to have more still!

    It’s sad, though, that someone doing this is noteworthy. In reality, this is the attitude everyone is supposed to have.

    Reply

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