Gospel & Universe

Primum Mobile

This page consists of a long poem set in Vicenza in the evening. The poem flirts with the beauty of Dante's universe, but opts for realism instead.   

Cherubs & Nitrogen - Beatrice Portinari - Walt Whitman - Our Primum Mobile


Cherubs & Nitrogen


Sitting at a café on Piazza dei Signori

I hear the church bells ring out

through the night-time streets of Vicenza

reminding us of eternity  

the world up above

clanging through the self-same air


Above the wayward clouds sits Paradiso

above the adult cherubs perching on the golden margins

and silver linings

playing harps

beyond the atmosphere thick with nitrogen

oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, helium

and 1% H2O


The bells sound of Upper Space

the Music of the Spheres, the Divine Violinist

plucking the icy harp-strings of Saturn

its gold and violet rings

which are lines 

that have been swept so long 

that we forget they're circles

of the Divine Geometer


Circles, always perfect circles

like the circular planets circling

in the Greater Circle of the Primum Mobile

moved by the great triple circle of God

The light and love of a circle surround it,
as like the others; of this space
only He who encloses it understands.

(Paradiso. 27. 12-14)

Unable to understand

Dante jumped beyond the stars

beyond time and space

entering the realm of the Deity who created both

from this double world to that realm of triune unity

the Spirit of God Himself

mirrored in perfect circles by the Son and Holy Ghost:

                                 In the deep clear
essence of that lofty light, three circles
appeared to me -- of three colors,
but of the same dimension;
the first was reflected by the second,
like a rainbow by a rainbow, and the third
seemed like fire breathed by the others.

(Paradiso. 33. 115-121)


Beatrice Portinari


All of this poetry lies somewhere beyond Pluto

(who was recently de-ranked, lost even to himself)

far, far beyond our oblate spheroid

and the ellipses of the planets of our solar system

somewhere in outer space

cold and black

with quasars and odd debris


Do prophets, like poets, just make stuff up -- 

like the animals that went in two by two

like all those circles and capital letters

like the magic goose and holy page? 

Or is there something divine, higher, beyond, behind their hopeful cosmologies?

Is there something beyond spectrographs, deeper than dark matter; something out there -- and right here, right in front of my skeptical eyes and ears, my blood, flesh, and bone, as I sit here, surrounded by the chaos of clinking glasses in this Vicenza coffee shop of random experience?

Is there something behind the absurdity of human life that makes a singular me worth being? Is there a correlate to this astronomical miracle of being, somewhere out there, vast as outer space?

Dante knew he could never know it all -- not logically anyway. To him, it was more a divine comedy than a summa cosmologica. The best he could do was build up his metaphors 

and let them collapse:

the eternal beauty of a Florentine girl 

at a water fountain

and he, Cupid-struck

watching as she walked away

into the streets of Florence 

her feet lifting off the ground

light-footed up the conical Mountain

into the clouds

past the startled angels

ascending at last to the Mother of God

deep at the centre of the Blessed Rose


Even this, he admitted, can't get to the essence of this universe 

the ether hanging in the night air

of a world that holds within it a girl's perfect beauty

and a mother's perfect love


in the imploding chaos of wars and plague

as a virgin birth

The beauty of it all

the Madonnas with their golden air

the blue Giotto heavens

make me rethink 

what I like to call the facts



Walt Whitman


I feel like Walt Whitman 

looking out into the mystical moist night air

after viewing the proofs of the learned astronomer

after the figures were ranged in columns before him

the charts and the diagrams


The infinite space he imagined 

back in 1865 

and his optimistic union 

of microcosmic self and sky

-- Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son --

has been multiplied and yet also reduced

since the advent of Hubble's telescope 

and the discovery of galaxies in 1923;

since Darwin and the deciphering

of cuneiform, collapsing stories

we once thought revealed

or at least original

now derivative

from Akkad

and the



of Sumer

which for decades

was seen as a reduction

as part of the Modern fall from Grace

but I would argue that this is not the case 

but, rather, this is a case of Herbert's "Easter Wings"* in disguise

because if what we always wanted was the truth

(whether we could handle it or not)

we got it

and now above us lie three hundred billion galaxies

because we are now closer to an exact

albeit expanding 

calculation of infinity than ever

Above us stretches a sky glistening with stars

ten million million million leagues deep

but this time the depth is literal

and also a metaphor of what might be

a probability of other life 

amid the chaos and order of the stars

who knows

perhaps even proof of spirit

sextillions of miles away

that may be the same spirit we have here

thinking, feeling

but for a longer or more predictable time

living for a thousand years

with senses woven into unity with a million worlds

yet the same spirit that we have

here in our precarious world 

in which we may not live another day

or another moment -- a stroke of bad luck

a seizure while seizing the day

or we may live another forty years

qui sait?



Our Primum Mobile


There may be at least 300 billion universes' worth of things

that we don't know

yet what we do know is that we're here

thinking, feeling 

right here, right now

pulsing with the bio-electrical charges of a trillion synapses

in a universe in which we don't have to make things up

because it's already big enough


The present is our primum mobile


It moves us out, each moment, into the world

and at the same time into our selves

pivots us from the microcosm of self 

to the macrocosm of our understandings

a million million million journeys 

these neurons take us on

like a rocket ship


O voi che siete in piccioletta barca... *


A statistician

pondering the improbability of his own existence

steps into the chapel

or out into the night sky

and yet holds onto his tablet

doesn't let it drop and fall to his knees 

but falls to his knees clenching the calculations 

that made his devotion possible


He sees on the glass screen of his tablet

(once cuneiform in clay

now digits that create letters;

the outward and the inner forms of silicon)

and feels the beauty of it all

but without the need to believe

in things he can't fathom

without the need to deny

the building blocks of the body 

the miracle of existence

that is a miraculous here

this miracle of feeling

intertwined with the miracle of thinking

which whispers to us that the miracle may also be there

beyond us

outside this café

or in the streets of Vicenza

or in some other universe

the same church bell tolling optimistically

in the night sky



* "Easter Wings" is a poem by George Herbert, published in 1633. Here is the first stanza:

Lord, who created man in wealth and store, 

      Though foolishly he lost the same, 

            Decaying more and more, 

                  Till he became 

                    Most poor: 

                     With thee 

                  O let me rise 

            As larks, harmoniously, 

      And sing this day thy victories: 

Then shall the fall further the flight in me. 

O voi che siete in piccioletta barca... O, you who are in your little boat... (Dante, Paradiso 2.1) 



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