May the Green Dog Guard Your Rest

February 18, 2010 § 2 Comments

I want you to read this poem by Lucille Clifton who just died.  It holds the sadness of the world and a little hope and love, in the voice of Lucifer. Lately I’ve been reading fantasy novels in which demons and the Devil himself are rendered human-like (powerful, masculine, tortured) and this poem reminds me that the same impulse works in these different kinds of writers, the obvious and the penetrating, the vulgar and the subtle. Being somewhere in between, I like the connection. Now that I’m writing a fantasy novel to (I hope) make much-needed money, I’m feeling especially defiant toward the highbrow lit crits, which was one thing Lucille never was.


by Lucille Clifton

(being a conversation in eight poems between an aged Lucifer and God, though only Lucifer is heard. The time is long after.)



come coil with me

here in creation’s bed

among the twigs and ribbons

of the past. ihave grown old

remembering the garden,

the hum of the great cats

moving into language, the sweet

fume of the man’s rib

as it rose up and began to walk.

it was all glory then,

the winged creatures leaping

like angels, the oceans claiming

their own. let us rest here a time

like two old brothers

who watched it happen and wondered

what it meant.


how great Thou art

listen. You are beyond

even Your own understanding.

that rib and rain and clay

in all its pride,

its unsteady dominion,

is not what you believed

You were,

but it is what You are;

in your own image as some

lexicographer supposed.

the face, both he and she,

the odd ambition, the desire

to reach beyond the stars

is You. All You, all You

the loneliness, the perfect



as for myself

less snake than angel

less angel than man

how come i to this

serpent’s understanding?

watching creation from

a hood of leaves

i have foreseen the evening

of the world.

as she as she

the breast of Yourself

separated out and made to bear,

as sure as her returning,

i too am blessed with

the one gift You cherish;

to feel the living move in me

and to be unafraid.


in my own defense

what could I choose

but to slide along behind them,

they whose only sin

was being their father’s children?

as they stood with their backs

to the garden,

a new and terrible luster

burning their eyes,

only You could have called

their ineffable names,

only in their fever

could they have failed to hear.


the road led from delight

into delight. into the sharp

edge of seasons, into the sweet

puff of bread baking, the warm

vale of sheet and sweat after love,

the tinny newborn cry of calf

and cormorant and humankind.

and pain, of course,

always there was some bleeding,

but forbid me not

my meditation on the outer world

before the rest of it, before

the bruising of his heel, my head,

and so forth.


“the silence of God is God.”

—Carolyn Forche

tell me, tell us why

in the confusion of a mountain

of babies stacked like cordwood,

of limbs walking away from each other,

of tongues bitten through

by the language of assault,

tell me, tell us why

You neither raised your hand

Nor turned away, tell us why

You watched the excommunication of

That world and You said nothing.


still there is mercy, there is grace

how otherwise

could I have come to this

marble spinning in space

propelled by the great

thumb of the universe?

how otherwise

could the two roads

of this tongue

converge into a single


how otherwise

could I, a sleek old


curl one day safe and still

beside YOU

at Your feet, perhaps,

but, amen, Yours.


“………is God.”


having no need to speak

You sent Your tongue

splintered into angels.

even i,

with my little piece of it

have said too much.

to ask You to explain

is to deny You.

before the word

You were.

You kiss my brother mouth.

the rest is silence.



§ 2 Responses to May the Green Dog Guard Your Rest

  • Nina says:

    That is a fantastic poem. I will have to read it several more times for it all to sink in. I am not a participant in organized religion there is too much I disagree with. I am comfortable with karma, energy and the flow of giving and receiving in kind.

    What appeals most to me in this poem is how Lucifer calls God out -specifically in verse 6 – to the atrocities in this (His) world. He suggests that even God doesn’t understand what/who He is or that which He has created, yet somehow it is we, His children that are left to bear it all.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Andree says:

    [the sound of s a deep and satisfied sigh]

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