Stan Rice, who died in December 2002, was a poet of unique, uncompromising vision. Joy and brutality, faith and faithlessness, the beauty of truth and, at times, of untruth–these opposing forces come together one last time in his final book of poetry, a haunting collection of psalms.
Beginning with his “Psalm 151”–that is, taking up where the Bible leaves off–Rice calls us to his own kind of prayer and contemplation. “Lord, hear me out,” he begins. “At the point of our need / The storehouse shares its shambles.” An elegant, passionate, tragic lament for our condition, Rice’s homemade psalms exhort us indirectly to accept our fate–the world as it is. In the brave, unshrinking manner that has characterized his whole career, Rice has written a profound farewell.
From the Hardcover edition.
Lord, hear me out. At the point of our need The storehouse shares its shambles. We are calling to the heart And desire information from place. We call on the pain in the wicked. They are prosperous, their footmen Have wearied, their servants Are swollen. But this is a walk in the park. How are we going to keep up With the coming floods. If we cant Handle this we cant handle The collar. Listen to this. Listen to the straightforwardness of this. Surely all day he has Broken my bones in gall. My leash he has caught in a hedge. He lay as a bear pulled in pieces. The arrows of his quiver have entered My gravel. I have forgotten strength. I have even forgotten about mercy. Every morning I chisel a shadow In springtime. Cheer my designs. Provide me my desert to die in. Great my might that erases My heart. I cant make it past this. My lamentations in winter and harvest Have doomed to captivity my despised Family. My looted father Is chained to a wall in sewage. But nobody’s listening. Ive heard the weeping Of the children as they were being Cooked. But we can sing it. Even if I am being scaled like a fish by you I will not accuse you of my gloom. I have an answer to that. Our bellies are envious. We want it. We want that promotion. We want That pride. Their eyes are fat. Therefore the riches increase And are cast out in vain. I would offend the fears Of my mind if I struggled With baloney. And I say no way. Not a person alive I hope Springs to his life but by Lifting it up and claiming it. The giant-killer paws the fair field. I am chased by morning. I am slippery. Selah.
Im tired of the fellowship of words, The abundance of tradition. Already it is wet outside And my heart is a red stick Beating a word. My goal is impossible. I am fully persuaded that staying-power Is what keeps the true story alive. It is what we do. People began to sift through my life-style. I came to know the backdrop against which Mysteries happen covered with dirt. There was dirt even on depth. Eavesdroppers dwelled on my faults. All by himself I was. I walked with pagans. I was one with anything grateful. But I had no clue. Feed me to the lions in the morning, Then the body will be filled. My life will be prayerless. Then will the knowing come forth As a reward for the subjective And passionate. I long But I dont know My own heart. Explosions feel good. The pollen is enticed. I am excited by heavenly places. But listen. How can we nail one hand To the altar Then go forth in the willingness To be comfortable And liked. We dont do What needs to be done. We dont see the miraculous because we need Props. Like a tongue in its entirety I long. Let the Red Lobster Burn down, go to hell, in the earth, Today. Some of us will be caught A day late with a goat head On our shining table. But a dark spiral will Eventually be made perfect In our weakness. The enemy I am running from is in The midst of the enemy. I was essentially hiding. I woke out of my sleep And put my stone pillow Outdoors. If only I had my own house. This is not whining. This is the dollar I am short. Selah.
I lay my head on a pillar But was not prepared with a sacrifice. Do you understand the distinction. That’s wonderful. But there’s a difference between seeing And doing. A contrite heart Walks uprightly growling. I say this with love. But dont admire me. Be at my side. Move with me. See, we are waiting to be asked To hold our breath. Be prepared to move toward the problem. Just this last Friday night We opened the doors And in came some ushers. In the kingdom of places parts are a wave. If you rush, the ferry will be on its way. As will I. Selah.
Is that old sock in the back yard In a coffee can worth going to hell for. Is a Superdome full of screaming women. Im burdened for you. I cant help it. I havent been able to sleep all week, Thinking about you who harden your necks. All down the line my brain burned As I pondered. How many times Have you resisted the word Then got cut off by a taxi. Wroth, but to no avail. As He who was stoned down to the last billy goat. But he never listened. His fingernails and toenails grew like the talons of the birds. Listen now. Are you going to have your way or bust. Well then youll just have to bust. A raving Message matters not to a jar. Send the spirit of a fool to cry in the night. On my heart lay terror. We are not talking about the category of casual visitors. A pointed man can sit And wonder eternally. Day after day You must pay the bills, but until you do that You have been told. Families have perished, have turned And burned. Yet you have not heard The soft-soap of flesh in the message. Hell wont be hot enough to roast the both of us. The smooth road gnashes its teeth. In our living rooms, I tell you. Your way will be washed of its will Like a new creature. Someone Will find you cold and blue in the bed Some morning. Itll be too late. Death wont Wear off like aftershave. That’s why Butterflies like sweet water. Im burdened for you. I cant help it. Listen now. Selah.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from False Prophet by Stan Rice. Copyright © 2003 by Stan Rice. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Stan Rice
Stan Rice (1942—2002) was the author of seven previous collections of poetry. For many years he was a professor at San Francisco State University. He received the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Academy of American Poets, among other awards. Rice, who was also a painter, was a longtime resident of New Orleans, where he lived with his wife, the novelist Anne Rice, and their son, the novelist Christopher Rice.