The Surprise

Everything that happens in this world is the result of a bargain
     between two old antagonists, God and the Devil.
A hailstorm flattens a field of wheat and the farmer weeps;
     a cat gives birth to kittens and licks them one by one.
Young people go out with their teacher to plant a tree;
     a prospector crawls into a cave and loses his way.
This is a ceaseless trading. God asks that something good
     come into the world, something of  beauty or
value;
The Devil replies with things that go wrong at the last minute,
     with disappointments, even destruction.

Different people call this process by different names;
     some worship one aspect of it, some another.
The explanations they make up for it do not matter.
     Whether they think the world is infinitely expanding,
Or made out of mud, or resting on a great turtle’s back,
     it goes right on. Some believe that God and the Devil
Do not hear what is being said. Others believe they hear,
     but do not care. Some say there are angels
Bringing messages down to the people on earth; others,
     that there are only atoms, which perceive nothing.

A very few believe it is possible to be heard –
     that everything in the universe will come to a stop
If words can be put together in the right way.
     Even the stones will know they have been summoned.
It is a matter of striking the right combination,
     as though improvising along an unseen keyboard
And coming into a strange new key, or as though
     covering a blackboard with numbers, until the slate
Begins to give off light. Or going out in the spring
     to look for the first wildflowers, and finding them.

The poet sits alone with a pencil and piece of paper,
     carefully working out the lines of a new poem.
At such moments the Devil stops whatever he is doing,
     and God, too, and both of them pay close attention.
They watch, and nod, sometimes to themselves,
     sometimes to each other. This is more than they did
For any of us when we were born. And it is more
     than they will do when we die. They both know
Life and death are part of an old bargain between them.
     What surprises them is that we still might sing about it.


© 2005 Jared Carter

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