I have yet to encounter a religious holiday that doesn’t capture my imagination. Today, it’s Easter, the climax of the Roman Catholic liturgical year—a celebration of the resurrection, of renewal, of the sun rising again tomorrow. Always in need of a fresh start myself, I wanted to participate in some small way. Fortunately, the doors to The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament are open to everyone, even religious mutts like me.
The Cathedral was built in 1889 and is one of Sacramento’s true architectural treasures. The exterior is Italian Baroque, the interior Victorian. It was exquisitely restored in 2005. I first looked inside the week after the reopening. From that first, tentative visit, I’ve always felt welcome. By that I mean “left alone.” Left alone to listen to the cantor sing, to study the paintings in the dome’s rondels, to experience the thousand-year-old ritual of Mass. No one asks if I’m registered at this parish, or even if I’m a Catholic.
Knowing the Cathedral was going to be crowded on Easter Sunday, I headed downtown early to make sure I’d get my favorite inconspicuous seat. I brought a favorite book along to share the wait. Czeslaw Milosz’s Facing the River (The Ecco Press, 1995, translated with Robert Hass). When I took my seat I opened the book randomly, at “Report.”
As I read the poem, I felt like Milosz was sitting right next to me. That I, too, was a “companion to the expedition” of poetry he describes. That I, too, would once again “renounce the doubts of night and greet the new/day of a most precious delusion.”
O Most High, you willed to create me a poet and now it is time
for me to present a report.
My heart is full of gratitude though I got acquainted with the
miseries of that profession.
By practicing it, we learn too much about the bizarre nature of
Who, every hour, every day and every year is possessed by self-
A self-delusion when building sandcastles, collecting postage
stamps, admiring oneself in a mirror.
Assigning oneself first place in sport, power, love, and the getting
All the while on the very border, on the fragile border beyond
which there is a province of mumblings and wails.
For in every one of us a mad rabbit thrashes and a wolf pack
howls, so that we are afraid it will be heard by others.
Out of self-delusion comes poetry and poetry confesses to its flaws.
Though only by remembering poems once written is their author
able to see the whole shame of it.
And yet he cannot bear another poet nearby, if he suspects him of
being better than himself and envies him every scrap of praise.
Ready not only to kill him but smash him and obliterate him
from the surface of the earth.
So that he remains alone, magnanimous and kind toward his
subjects, who chase after their small self-delusions.
How does it happen then that such low beginnings lead to the
splendor of the word?
I gathered books of poets from various countries, now I sit
reading them and am astonished.
It is sweet to think that I was a companion in an expedition that
never ceases, though centuries pass away.
An expedition not in search of the golden fleece of a perfect form
but as necessary as love.
Under the compulsion of the desire for the essence of the oak, of
the mountain peak, of the wasp and of the flower of nasturtium.
So that they last, and confirm our hymnic song against death.
And our tender thought about all who lived, strived, and never
succeeded in naming.
For to exist on the earth is beyond any power to name.
Fraternally, we help each other, forgetting our grievances,
translating each other into other tongues, members, indeed, of a
How then could I not be grateful, if early I was called and the
incomprehensible contradiction has not diminished my wonder?
At every sunrise I renounce the doubts of night and greet the new
day of a most precious delusion.