Blogging Toward Bethlehem, Day 97: Marvin’s Poems

January 5th, 2011

A few days ago, I wrote a piece about my favorite teacher, the extraordinary Marvin Klotz.

It was supposed to serve as an introduction to a very small sampling of the poetry Marvin has been writing lately, poetry that I am lucky enough to receive in monthly installments, and which I read with complete attention and, usually, multiple times.

However, WordPress didn’t want to let me format the poetry properly.   Someone went to the trouble of tracking down the issue in the WordPress forum.  If you ever need to single-space after a page return, hold down the shift key while you press enter.  So there you are, and here’s Marvin’s poetry.

Almost the only problem with getting the poems via e-mail is that I can’t hear Marvin saying them.  So as you read the two that follow, I ask you to imagine the voices of James Earl Jones and Orson Welles blended together, only a lot better and less stagy than either.  Pretty much, in fact, the ideal male voice.

Although the voice of the poems is plenty good enough.


For S.S.

Inside the skin’s where it happens.
Amazing what that space contains —
Interstices, the roads all mapped
By what we’ve done — our lives’ refrain,

A song within the skin. Childhood
Anxieties,  first love, the rough
And tumble scars,  ecstatic good —
All melt, and cool — become one tough

Amalgam: our unburnished selves.
There reside affections, taste, pain,
And politics.  And there we delve
Among the crystal cracks, to gain
That sense of who we are, to find
Among inchoate parts, a center.

Sometimes, inside the skin, the mind
Demurs, sweeps out all debris — vents,
And leaves that arid space within
Where plain grief abides, untarnished
By our lives’  complex and foolish
Stuff —  just empty, inside the skin.


One time,
At a small Hindu temple
Outside Benares
(After attendant monks
had fed the images),
We watched
Three young country women,
Come dancing through the hall.
They pressed their palms
Beneath their chins
(Mudra, it’s called)
At each niche-seated shrine.
And lovingly stroked
The many lingams
Scattered about the room.

One time,
At a modest church in Athens,
We asked about the silver
Body parts (an eye, an ear,
A foot, a hand)
Hung near the altar.
These, we learned,
Were offerings to god,
Reverent rewards
For miraculous cures.

One time,
In Chiang Mai,
As we climbed the steps
To  the Buddhist Temple,
Out young female guide
Cringed to one side
As two saffron- robed monks
Had she, even accidentally,
Touched them,
She explained,
They would be soiled.

One time,
In Jerusalem,
We saw men,
Strangely dressed,
Furiously bending
Back and forth,
Inverted pendulums
(Davening, it’s called),
Facing a wall
Made holy by antiquity.

One time,
In Mashad,
At midnight,
We doffed our shoes
And entered the eighth imam’s
Sequined shrine.
The pilgrims there
Around the imam’s
Fretwork tomb
Fastened colored threads
To their afflicted parts
To gain divine afflatus
And cure their pain.

One time,
In Khajuraho,
We ogled 10th-century art
Displaying sexual excess —
Rude variations —
On the temple’s outer walls.
Not well understood
(“Tantric yoga,”
some scholars
Inadequately explain),
They ornament
These holy precincts,
and do wonders
For the tourist trade.

One time,
In Taipei,
We bought some paper money —
An offering to burn.
We threw the sticks
And got one marked
The  assistant Taoist Priest
Looking through the book,
Pronounced our good fortune,
In the courtyard
Stood a new pickup truck,
Brought for blessing.
Firecrackers, attached to
Each corner, made an awful din,
And drove away the demons.

One time.
Outside Katmandu,
We came upon
Spinning in the wind.
Each revolution
Reinforced the mantra
Until, perhaps, it could not
Be ignored.

One time,
In Rome,
We saw parishioners
Kneel at the altar rail
And receive
A consecrated wafer
On their tongues.
It was the flesh of god
We learned.

One time,
Outside Siem Reap,
I climbed an ancient temple.
At the tower’s top,
With ant-like folks below,
I raised my arms
(I could not stop myself)
And howled:
“Thus saith the lord your god!”
No one looked up.
I crept down
And went away.

13 Responses to “Blogging Toward Bethlehem, Day 97: Marvin’s Poems”

  1. Gary Says:

    Oh, yes!

    Reading them aloud helps. It really does.

    Both poems are wonderful. The first, to me, because I can just hear a Shakespearean actor reading it, caressing it with his voice.

    And the second, because it’s such a poignant echo of, yes… the human condition! And it brings back memories too.

    Thank you, Tim. Thank you.

  2. fairyhedgehog Says:

    I do like these, especially Religion and in particular

    They ornament
    These holy precincts,
    and do wonders
    For the tourist trade.

  3. EverettK Says:


    Both poems evoked in me a feeling of geologic time, a stretching of the perspective, the point of view, to a greater than normal distance.


  4. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Beautiful. The human and the eternal. Thank you, Tim.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, All —

    Thanks for chiming in. I love these poems (and many of the others he’s sent me)>

    I’m just sorry you don’t also get to know Marvin. Of all the people who check in here from time to time, I think only Robb and Maria have ever met him. An amazing guy.

    I’m so glad you’re all liking the poems.

  6. Suzanna Says:

    Tim, So glad you worked out all the issues you had with posting Professor Klotz’s work and we get to read the poems the way they were intended to be read.

    REQUIEM, the internal world of human existence in four stanzas. Masterful.

    RELIGION. This poem makes me want to travel to each of those places, to see what he saw, and yes, even stand on a hill and shout like a fool. But for now I will settle for rereading this over and over.

    Professor Klotz is a wizard.

  7. Beth Says:

    It is interesting that in Taoism, Orthodox Judaism, and Islam women are considered vile and unclean by nature.

    Yet in Christianity, which has the reputation of subjugating women, all women are elevated because the Savior came into the world through a woman.

  8. Philip Coggan Says:

    Love the finale to Religion.

    The other day you were asking about favourite music. I’d add Allegri’s Misere (that’s the one that the Vatican refused to publish, until the 14 year old Mozart heard it just once and went home and wrote it out from memory). It sayeth: “In sin I was conceived, in pain my mother bore me” – which is perhaps not a very life-affirming sentiment, but the music is sublime.

  9. Gary Says:

    Beth. Jewish prayer:

    I thank Thee, Lord, that I was not born a Gentile, a dog, or a woman.

  10. Laren Bright Says:

    I vote for Religion. Awesome.

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I’m sure that Marvin will be delighted at your reactions. I know I am. There are many more poems, and I might put some more up in the future if he’ll let me.

    But Beth, women still can’t be priests (much less bishops) in the Catholic church, and despite Mary Magdalen, I don’t see a strain of practical compassion in Christianity’s attitude toward what used to be called “fallen women.” Fallen men don’t seem to have it half as hard.

    Gary, the Jewish prayer, of course, says as much about Jews as it does Gentiles. All the People of the Book, traditionally, at least, could use a couple of hours a day in feminist perspectives. Maybe Marvin would come out of retirement to teach it.

  12. Marvin Says:

    I am overwhelmed by Tim’s praise, and his blog friends’ responses. There really are no words–so a lame thank you must suffice. “Requiem” was written in response to the much too early death of a friend’s daughter. “Religion,” quietly, attempts to direct a light, sufficiently bright, to persuade the faithful to stop killing each other.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks to you, Marvin. You inspired it all. Wonderful, wonderful poems.

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