Carl Dennis has won the Pulitzer Prize and it has been said by the New York Times Book Review that his work is “not only pleasurable but substantial and important.” Callings is a paperback collection that, interestingly, explores (among other things) the notion of calling, and “provides an alternative to the disorder of the world.” So, in light of yesterday’s post about my chapel talk at Geneva, inviting students to think about their vocations as holy callings, and of God’s promises to transform our world through our humble work, I offer this poem from Carl Dennis. I trust it will invite you to ponder and perhaps rejoice.
A few of the words from a few of the one-line sentences have been put on other lines by the formatting of my blog platform when I added the picture of the cover.
Down on the ground, it’s hard for him to measure
How well he’s doing, whether he’s liable, say,
To be too quick when correcting his children
Or too slow, too distant or too intrusive
And is honesty what he needs more of
For his wife to be happier, or forbearance?
But on the roof he knows exactly
What the situation requires
And how best to supply it,
Sustained as he is by the clear consensus
Of the ghosts of the great roofers of yesteryear,
Who nod approval at work well done.
On the ground, as he walks from his job,
He has to be a witness to shoddy craftsmanship:
Potholes gaping again after a month or two,
Porches rebuilt last summer already listing.
And then the boarded windows of the bank
That gambled away the savings of the thrifty.
But on the roof the only work he observes
Is his own of yesterday and the day before,
Good work that inspires him once again
To set his shingles neatly in courses,
Each as secure as nails can make it.
How gently the morning light
Glances along the ladder
As it rises from the world of obscure beginnings
And obscure procedures to the luminous realm
Where the rows of shingles
Climb from drip edge to roof beam
With a logic that’s irresistible.
As long as light holds,
It’s a pleasure to linger here
Where he can believe himself an agent of progress.
No need to rush. Already at hand,
The last shingle the job requires
Waits to sit snug in its proper place.
Callings by Carl Dennis (Penguin) $18.00.