Saint Augustine’s “One Hundred and Eight Names for God”; “Resurrection Bird

FEBRUARY 2008: POETRY

by Thom Satterlee

One Hundred and Eight Names for God

based on Hal M. Helms translation of The Confessions

Some of them we’ve heard before–
Lord, Almighty, Omnipotent One.
And others turn God into a pedant,
even if that wasn’t always a bad thing to be:
Power That Weds My Mind with My Inmost Thought.
But many, the best, are like a new birdcall:
Beauty of All Things Beautiful,
The One by Whom I Have Been Apprehended.
They remind me of the unsteady joy
in learning a foreign language: God, Light
of My Eyes in Secret, Inmost Physician,
Exaltation of My Humility. What impresses me most is
his trying again and again to name what he loves,
and how the attempt at once shows
and grows his love.

So what shall we call him,
This Most Effusive Saint? He is An Eloquent
Lover of the Divine, One Holy
Word Hoarder, God’s Appellation Artist.
He is One Who Shows Us
What a Name Can Mean, An Alphabet
That Ends with the Letter for God.

Resurrection Bird

My wife said, “Come look at something sad.”
And so I joined her beside the window
to see what she pointed at: tail feathers
sticking up from a divot in the snow.

Last night the wind had gusted to forty mph.
The temperature had dropped below zero,
and we got a good four to five inches.
This is how things sometimes go.

She asked if I knew what kind it was.
I did. A Dark-eyed Junco.
(No other bird in our back yard
has black on top and white below.)

We left it to the same wind
that killed the bird to blow
and do the job of burying it.
It was still snowing out there, and too cold.

An hour later, my wife called me again.
She had something new to show,
something she didn’t understand.
“Where,” she asked, “did the bird go?”

We could see its indentation
covered lightly with new snow,
and there were tracks that led away
from where we had thought it died and froze.

“Should we call it the resurrection bird?”
Maybe it only slept there, then woke.
Or it hit the window, was struck unconscious,
and when we weren’t looking, rose.

But beside the plausible accounts
this other one begins to grow–
the implausible stretching its wingtips
between what we know, and then unknow.

Thom Satterlee teaches creative writing at Taylor University. His first book of poems, Burning Wyclif, was a 2007 American Library Association Notable Book and a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in Poetry.