Knowledge increases unreality.—Yeats

Are you or aren’t you
That cloud-chambered God whose substance
Is a quark’s is-and-isn’t-ing?

I think of the cool sparks
Of fireflies adrift
On a summer’s evening…
Thy justice and Thy mercy,
O Indeterminate One or More,
How shall they be reckoned?

The Lord giveth
And the Lord taketh away
So many times per second.
Are you that Nothing-from-which-Everything
Whose bones are made of light
(Light, which has Nothing up its sleeve)?

We believed in you a minute ago
But that’s history.
The atomic clock ticks and again we believe.
You open your eyes
And look us alive.
We occur.

We are, because you believe in us.
You doubt we ever were
And we never were.
God in Limbo,
Humanity in eclipse
Circle endlessly

In a mutual orbit
Anchored only
In Uncertainty.

There once was a childish deity
Of freaks and tantrums,
Supernaturally carnal.

He splashed
In the stream of time
And his laughter seemed eternal.

Time was your toy,
Immortal boy
Who with jubilant cries

Captured stars
In Mason jars
Like fireflies.

Now you have minions in sacerdotal
Business suits trafficking
In the raw actuarials of existence.

They consult the Tables, calculate
The optimum Window-of-Opportunity
To feed us a soupçon of your Providence.

You have second thoughts.
And we who are so anxious for your mansions:
How deeply we pretend to care!

Is it still good, Father? We ak.
Yes, it is good, you say,
An old man growing vague in a lawn chair.

A car swerves down
A winding road.
The driver slaps the steering wheel and cries.

Swaying back and forth
Above the dashboard,
Entangled with a pair of foam-rubber dice,

How can you help her, God made of polymers
Scaled down to Christ-Man
Hanging from the windshield?

God who relents, who sends us an angel—
Or is it that good-luck cricket
The boy brought home from the cornfield?

Now and then he opens
His Schrödinger Box:
Is it still alive in there?

Still alive. Set it free.
A chorus of crickets rises and falls.
Fitful annunciations glow in evening air.

Speaking of angels:
Have you seen the one
Who comes in the night to jumble our pawns?

He puts them back
Where they were
Just before day dawns.

The pieces are in place,
But we suspect that the substance
Of ordinary things is slightly transsubstantial—

Our arrangements
Seem strange, though nothing is changed.
This is your work, O Angel.

God riddled with holes
Who gave us fragments
Of a thousand commandments,

Shalts and shalt nots
Pieced here and there
Into meaning, scattering into nonsense

In the flick
Of a scholar’s eye:
Is this your will,

Elohim of the Shattered Tablets?
Is the only law
The Law of the Codicil?

And religion is there
Because we slept through our origins
And do not know our destiny

And I awoke
To find myself
In this candle-light procession by the sea.

Helmets glimmering like plunder,
The Greeks emerge
From the barbarous dark.

Their gods? Having no name
For their many names, the priests march
With a toy chest full of myths for an Ark.

The number of angels
On the head of a pin
Approaches infinity.

I pricked my thumb
The other day
And now I’m infected with divinity.

Recording Angel, whom some call Thoth:
Because you wrote down my deeds
Some are good and some are evil.

God of Ambiguous Hopes:
You measured the water in my glass
And now it is half-full.

When I looked out
The mouth of the cave
My view was blocked by a giant angel’s toe.

What did it profit me to lose the world
When I gave my soul to You,
Merciful Allah, my Refuge—my Bafflement—my Woe!

William Blake:
Your God flourishes in his fire
For an artery’s pulsation—the length of a vision—

Sharpens along the sight-line
His blades of fierce delight:
Forever only there and then.

Nietzsche in Turin
Walks the streets
On a sunny afternoon,

Smiling at strangers:
I am the god
Who created this cartoon!

A God in a hurry
Glanced us into being en passant,
On his way to another world, another sky.

We are window-reflections—
A flash in the corner
Of His eye.

Pilgrims, did you come all this way
Just to stand on the porch of the temple,
Trading heavenly gossip? Where is it written

That you must loiter here, blocking the entrance?
Shadows lengthen and the sun goes down.
But this is our religion.

Sixty-four octaves below middle C,
A black hole’s laying down a filthy groove—
Bass-line for the music of the spheres.

Pulses of a savage rock-and-roll
Scramble poor Palestrina’s pale strains,
So dear to angel choirs.

Flip a coin, and many different you’s
Make heads or tails of it—in many worlds,
Neither far from us nor near us…

We choose, from many gods, God.
Monotheism is what happens
When pantheism decoheres.

The gods we worshipped
Worshipped gods of their own.
And their gods? It went on and on…

We never suspected
Ours was a pantheon
Within a pantheon.

The temple is a labyrinth. It is an image
Of the god. If you wish to lose yourself there,
Three points are essential:

The devil who guards the entrance isn’t dangerous.
The self at the center—the central self? A stranger.
The angel by the exit is no angel.

At the center of the stone
Is a stone.
Some religions are religions of stone.

At the center of the bone
Is something that is not bone: call it air.
This is the founding Mystery of Bone.

A religion that makes light
Of itself at the center…
On an altar in the Holy

Of Holies
Sits a bowl
Of guacamole.

Those who circle the perimeter
Of the Miracle
Are worshipful.

Those who work at the center
Of the Miracle
Are more skeptical.

Let me try on
This religion
You so cozily rely on.

Is it Hindu or Mayan?
Do you worship the Lamb
Or the Lion?

Sudden turbulence.
We fastened our seatbelts, prayed
For the wings to stop shuddering.

The plane had entered
A cloud of Hindu deities
Furiously rutting.

We made a pact, my God and I:
Believe in me
And I’ll believe in you.

Now this is absolutely true,
Or Truth’s a lie
And Krishna isn’t blue.

A pet god who was once a wolf,
A god who worships us.
We say Sit on your throne and he sits,

And with a thousand hands
To do the bidding of hypocrites.

I know a country
Where they worship
A candy-coated Savior—

Not the Savior so much
As His flavor: the delicious
Vanilla Communion wafer.

The preacher’s speech balloons
Floated to the ceiling,
Filled with his scented breath.

Words soft as angel food cake
Yielded sweetly
To his tongue and teeth.

In homage to Christ’s Vicar
You sprouted leaves, O pilgrim’s staff.
October came: you shed them.

Deciduous caduceus—
Just one more
Autumn victim!

30. IsaiahThey chattered on
And would not hear
Of the approaching threat—

Until they saw
The naked statesman
Walking down the street.

Who would have believed
The credo of the Quantum Humanist
Would be so tenuously provisional

It could only be expressed
In the subjunctive-future-perfect-

His credo included the Dream Time;
The International Dateline; that when
The fridge door’s shut the light stays on inside;

That a shadow remains
On the wall of Plato’s Cave
Where the Buddha died.

He jotted down so many Scriptures,
He did this so many times
Founding religion after religion

That one day, on his travels,
It occurred to him:
In the Beginning was the Repetition.

This happened halfway down
A long, dry road.
My sight was dim

From the weariness of my walking
When I looked up and saw the Buddha.
I was too tired to kill him.

35. Sky burialThe Unknown Pilgrim
Died at Lhasa,
Leaving only an empty satchel.

They took him
To a mountaintop
And fed him to an angel.

My death and I sit down one day
To play a game of Tarot.
A formidable foe is death: a Rosicrucian—

A man well versed in both Arcana,
Major and Minor, thoughts
Hermetically sealed behind a mask of concentration.

My future is at wager here.
I scan my hand, I pick
A card. Sweet luck! I trade the Fool for the Magician.

It issues boldly from my lips:
I call. He spreads them out:
King Skeleton, King Skeleton, King Skeleton…

Dwarf god hatched in a Klein bottle,
Demiurge playing Maxwell’s demon:
In the litter of gods, this is the runt.

There is an Infinity, plus one
That rides piggy-back: he is the one.
The Aleph-Ant.

He sits enthroned in his cloud-chamber.
Every fluctuant picosecond
With his strobe-light fiat-looks

He conjures neutrinos
Like fireflies from the dark.
Oodles and googles, too, of startled quarks.

Across a Kingdom
Nanometers wide
He walks in strangeness and in spin,

Picks molecules apart like flies,
Tortures atoms
Into furious Brownian motion.

A genie, perhaps.
But no genius. A fragment
Of a genie. An elf,

Or excerpt of an elf,
Trapped in a fractal
Of himself.
Cut to nanobot Noah on his silicon raft,
Rescuing the beasts of the periodic table,
Breasting the photon flood with that rowdy crowd

Till the miraculous micro-event
Of a rainbow precipitates
From a probability-cloud.

I meant to say: Hunchback Demiurge,
King of the Gargoyles,
Charles Laughton-medieval, Belfry Billy.

Of less than average intelligence,
He’s riding the cast iron beasts of the bells,
Has bells for a back and a belly.

Ah, there is squalor
And thievery below
In the Court of Miracles

And his ugly stone angels
Are vomiting down
A torrent of oracles.

He exults in his deafness, laughing insanely,
Riding the God-cups,
Spilling their holy racket

Over a city
Blind to the beautiful pity
Of a dwarf with the world on his back.

The Big Bang: wasn’t that a hoot,
When out of less-than-nothing
You conjured all-the-things-that-are

And out they burst,
Obstreperous as a host of clowns
Sprung from a circus car?

(O consternation
And hilarity,
That we cannot simultaneously

Determine its position
And velocity!
O vroom and doom! O woe and whee!)

In our white coats we circle,
Circle like a whirlwind
Buffeting the ancient crux:

Will God ever put
The Jack-in-the-Box

40. Dem bones, dem bones…
Lord of the Loony Tune Sublime,
With rubber mallets in your hands
You zigzag through the Valley of Dry Bones

And silence suddenly
Grows replete
With bonkings of a billion xylophones.

These hard white facts,
These petrifying souvenirs the life force
Withers at the sight of:

Set them alive
As if they were a brace of birthday candles
Made to be made light of.

Connect, connect, Lord,
Bone with bone and bone with bone
Till with a clicking and a clacking noise

We stand and face the sun
And sway in the breeze like rickety
Little houses made of Tinker Toys.

Resurrection’s Virtuoso:
Refresh the once-so-procreative sand
With your miraculous water-squirting rose.

Dress us again in coats of skin, we’ll stroll
Through Eden’s renovated public gardens
In these Intelligent Designer clothes.

(Some, alas, will wake up
In the Adversary’s camp
Where lurid watch fires glow like cans of Sterno.

O tragic slapstick! How their souls
Slide-whistled down and landed with a tiny poof
In Hell’s Canyon (a.k.a. Inferno.)

Re-flesh, especially, those toothy caverns
Over which once wiggled
The expressive signature of lips,

That we may smile, because we get the joke:
Hilarious, the way you juggle
Apotheosis and Apocalypse.

I visited the Lonely God-in-a-Tower:
He bears the burden of all he sees.
He looks out at the world through our eyes

And fills them with tears and pity.
Saints and poets climb to his side
To share in his helpless sympathy.

The plagues and wars:
He watches them through his telescope
Of dented brass.

He paces, tortures his wits for ways
To conquer the Conqueror Worm.
The skeletons amass.

One day we will all
Climb to his side
In the Tower of the Bleeding Heart

And this will be
The consummation of all we see
And say in love, science, art.

There is an ordinary God who says:
Let there be lawns and kitchen tables.
(Just give me a minute.)

Let my nuclear family look out the windows
Of their Father’s Ranch House
And read newspapers in it.

I’m just sort of what I am, your basic God-Guy,
Well-liked and respected
God of Honorable Mentions—

Oh, and why not a Brownian motion
Of puppies at tussle, pleasantly tweaking
Silence’s surface tensions?

Let them sit on the sofa.
(Oh yes, let there be sofas.)
Let the lovely and talented daughter

Come down the stairs
And play on the upright
Her parents bought her.

(It will be slightly
Out of tune,
But that will not matter.)

Let her pause
At the keyboard,
Cradle that fermata

Till all the time in the world
Rests sweetly exhausted there;
And space is warm and candle-lit.

Stillness moves.
Amid quiet breathing
The Minute Waltz detaches itself from the infinite.

Arthur Chapin