God’s Promises (from poetryfoundation.org)
I, the Lord, will make barren
your fields and your fairways.
Your refrigerators will be empty,
no steaks and no leg bones,
no butter and no cornbread.
And I will remove your screen doors,
force the mosquitoes indoors
where you lie on the bed undead.
For my house you have not readied,
no flat screen and no broadband.
My habitation is a wasteland
of furniture from motel rooms.
I will send the ostrich and badger
in herds through your wrecked rooms;
your beds will be entered by turnstile;
the floor will seethe with bees.
For my house is but a prefab;
its roof lets in my rain.
Woe is the Lord of Heaven
who has no mansion on earth.
Cries are heard from my fish traps,
crows flap on my hat rack,
pandemonium at the threshold
as the owls and bats flit in.
Silence reigns in the last place
and the first place has no sway.
For my knife-edge is impatient,
my ledge crumbles like cake.
I have warned you to beware.
You await a handsome savior,
but the plain man draws near…
“Fields” to “fairways” seems to be the initial problem. We work, and that is well within divine order. We earn our keep, justly. Justice, however, isn’t happiness. Our happiness – here, our decadence – cuts apart animals (“steaks,” “leg bones”), creates substitutes for grains and vegetables (“butter,” “cornbread”).
Now the movement from “fields” to “refrigerators” has been sudden, and our narrator begins moving from an innermost coldness/stasis to something else. The narrator, “the Lord,” says we have not made His house ready, ambiguously adding “no flat screen and no broadband.” It is tempting to think we should exclude television and broadband from the house of the Lord, but these are the only two images that speak to the possibility of communication. We discuss explicitly his habitation. In ours, the mosquitoes were forced indoors. In his, even furniture belonging to no one was cast aside, constituting his domain. His world and our world converge, not through a threat, but through decay already occurring. “I will send” is very different from the previous “I will make barren” and “I will remove.” Buildings are left to decay now, and nature takes over. Successful people do go broke and end up sleeping in subways (“turnstiles”). Lying down to rest anywhere becomes a problem (“floor will seethe with bees”). The Sabbath is an appropriate respect for rest. It has been forgotten, and the plagues commence as a matter of course.
The Lord lives in a shoddy house open to the rain. Our vices open the way to his virtue. “Woe is the Lord of Heaven / who has no mansion on earth:” this is literal, the Lord of Heaven is “Woe” itself. Man otherwise is only seen as animal, for he has placed himself there. He cannot be a fisher of men if men are petty and complain about the slightest discomfort. The uncovered head is a beastly lack of shame. All that is left of wisdom is dwelling in darkness (“owls and bats”). “Silence reigns in the last place / and the first place has no sway:” all things perish, but originated for higher purpose. They were to speak the glory of God. It is probably not incorrect to think of the Lord as Alpha and Omega here, too. He does not sway, and His Word was Creation.
God’s “knife-edge” is really our knife-edge. We’re the ones who only wanted cake. He never had any need of devices to communicate, real furnishings, a decent house, except to the degree He is all-in-all, for which we can be judged for failing to see Him in everyone, everyday.