Saint Augustine

poetry 0
Nick Flynn


Saint Augustine preached humility &
the need to simply be on the ground.
Do you wish to rise? he asked. What
would he say of these words then, which,
after all, are meant to replace us? What
would he say of the way I go back, again
& again, to the burning house, the house
we’ve already escaped? These words—
so quick, the way they rise up, like sparks,
or smoke, a person could get lost in the sky
watching them, a person could lose track
of the important things. Spot quiz: What’s
the opposite of standing before a house
on fire, trying to understand the flames,
& knowing you will never understand?
I want to enter into that moment my mother
strikes her first match, but I’m still asleep
upstairs. In the dream I’m walking through
the marsh, because only there, surrounded
by water, am I safe. Are your hands
the water? Are these words the flame?
The reeds are taller than I am, the mud
slows everything down. In some ways
I cannot imagine seeing you again, but here
I am, kneeling as in prayer at your bedside,
counting our breaths. What would stop me
from taking your hand then & placing it on my
chest? O Lord, help me be pure, but not yet.
Even as I write each word I am farther from
God—sometimes I just can’t find it. If only I could
have the faith I hear coming from the radio,
the way it always knows I’m listening. One day
these years will be known as the space between
silence & enough. I still have trouble being alone
in either, which is why the radio is always on.
Do you wish to rise? Augustine asks. Begin
by descending.

Nick Flynn’s latest book of poems is I Will Destroy You (Graywolf ), which is where the poem (“Saint Augustine”) in this magazine (Salamander) will spend eternity.