I am a lover of poetry. I am a lover of words. Words that inspire. Words that hit the nerve within the heart. Theodore Roethke’s Poem, “The Dark Angel” from “Straw for the Fire” hit that nerve for me ten years ago, moved me into action, unleashed a flood of ideas and of a willingness to tap tap tap letters, words, and whole sentences out.
“The Dark Angel” poem is the cornerstone of inspiration for my four-part book series, of mystery/low-fantasy books about the city of Conrad, a town across the bay from San Francisco and a Roman Catholic priest who gets drawn into, rather reluctantly, into the otherworldly happenings in and around Conrad.
Here is Roethke’s poem with key lines in blue.
The Dark Angel by Theodore Roethke
In the dead middle of the sweating night,
I lost my name; and that was my delight;
I cried a name, I cried a name out loud;
I was the shape I was when I was born…
What place could know him in that frantic hour
When he put off his being like a shirt?
The mirrors melted down and flowed away,
And God had use of me on that dark day.
In the womb, I refused death.
No, not nothing, not unbeing’s bleak stare,
The white walls of nowhere, the glassy ache
Of the raw desert, the alkaline Great Beyond.
Nothing defined or final in itself,
All nights combined to make a blacker day,
The soul appalled by time’s hyperbole.
Self,self, the stinking self offends my eyes;
My ears, my nose drop with my ancient knees.
I am undone by false propinquities;
Lipping a stone, and calling it a rose,
For hell is where I am …
So desolate in this felicity,
So driven by extremes – Which way is Near?
I am a man becoming what I see …
And these loose flames become a single fire.
Few of the blind are mad.
John Clare, I the way your spirit went:
Day after day, the lonely languishment,
Hours turn to minutes when true spirits laugh:
He loved the world, and cut his life in half.
Christopher, help me love this loose thing.
I think of you now, kneeling in London muck,
Praying for grace to descend.
Disorder, heraldic, magnificent:
Hate raging under the moon,
Ghosts bursting the rooms of a hurt heart,
While the winds lag
And all the minds groan to recover
And kill the root of desolation.
You lock of skin, pray keep this motion nice.
Why have I flung my reason that it sings
Without me, a country babbler by a sty?
My sympathy is sickness, so they say.
The trees are breathing less. You, winky, sleep.
I’ve come to tear the sun out. Save me, mouse.
I’m done with every pretty thing.
Those miseries took shape
And broke upon my path
As if the leaves took form
And scuttled into shade,
A shape of headless fur,
Brother to rat or worm.
He’d lost the will to be. His various selves
Retreated, all, into the deeper grass,
Or pulsed behind a stone in the long field.
The green of things remembered the late rose
Shrivelled against the sill …
Death’s all: death’s substance is this gray;
And the ground cannot save us. I’m a stone
Cast into ashes. See the air’s still! A fine fume
Drifts from one seed.
The blood’s appalling repetitions end.
One part of him was dying long before.
To my dead self with its perpetual fear of death
I said Goodbye.
Bow out, dark angel.
Your summer stallions, paw.
Grass widows, wives, weep well
For here’s a noble lord of skin laid down;
This gap shall hold me.
The four books of my novel series are titled after the Christian concets/beliefs of “Sin”, “Confession”, “Penance” and “Redemption”.
In the first book, “Sin”, meet protagonist and hero, Father Reggie; murder victim and secret stigmatic Father Martin,; eccentric townies; Abbott Howard and his brothers in Christ; and Clemmie, a young woman who gets caught up in Father Reggie’s dilemma against Church, his parishioners, corrupt religious orders and perhaps even God, himself, as she agrees to help him find the truth behind Father Martin’s murder.
The murder of Father Martin throws together Reggie and Clemmie to form an unlikely sleuthing duo in an AARP card carrying Catholic priest and a third generation Mexican-American undergraduate student, attending Stanford University, to figure out who or what murdered their stigmatist priest friend who was being secretly housed at St. George Parish and cared for by Reggie for the past 20 years.
What this story has or so goes my plans, say it has, so far …..
1. Angels ( guardian and otherwise)
2. A stigmatist group that operates in secret and holds support groups (i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous Mtgs.)
3. Aztec Gold Dieties and pre-conquest myths and ties to Early Mexican American California History.
4. A Religious Community of Monks and Diocesan Priests and Bishops. Some good and some very very very bad. Actually, most are questionable and far from the great men they would like to believe they are. After all, men are just men in the end, as are women. Just people not saints. Flawed people and thank goodness because as they say, “God Loves the Sinner.”
5. An exploration of the complex community dynamics and politics of Conrad and surrounding small towns.
7. An exploration of imminent domain land laws and how they shaped the history of California.
8. A second-tier of townies that include an embezzling bookkeeper/accountant, a promiscuous school principal, a marijuana farm grower, a fisherman, and a group of skater teens and, of course
9. God and the Mother of Christ. Seperate, perhaps but what if they were one and the same and engendered as woman.
As you can see….there is alot there I am working with and perhaps this is why I am having such a hard time to tell the story but I really beleive it will be a tale that shows its worth in the final telling. I can hope. We will see.