Sooner or later the world must burn, and all things in it – all the books, the cloister together with
the brothel, Fra Angelico together with the Lucky Strike ads.
(From his journals)
On the afternoon of December 10, 1968, in Bangkok, Thailand,
the body of Father Louis, O.C.S.O.,
ceased its bid for immortality and joined the legions of failures
whose bones and ashes the world claims and keeps
as unheeded reminders there is no escape.
By his accounts, the deceased himself –
the True Self he sought like a fox aflame in his woods –
did not aspire to perpetual, even long, earthly life;
to the contrary. That distinguishes him
from me and probably you, who, irrational as it may be,
cling to the possibility of indefinitely hanging around
even if it means never quite arriving at a date
for the likewise irrational entry into Paradise.
Merton professed not only to be prepared and preparing
for Heaven, but to be rushing it – questing
after self-abnegation, “nothingness,” “littleness,”
helplessness before the Infinite Nothing That was
the Catholic Father he managed to embrace whole and solely
in arms yet open to every other faith and philosophy
conceived by the Unknowable God’s pilgrim offspring.
Soul and salvation over matter and mind . . .
he sought to do it the easy way,
burying his libidinous False Self
in a monastery in hill country; turns out
it was the hard way –
a cowled hermit whose books, letters, lectures, audiences
brought his nothingness to millions; his littleness
to giants of literature, religion, politics, pop music;
his resented body across continents
and to its untimely or perfectly timed death;
a monk with a girlfriend, for a while, in the bargain,
and torment for losing his way for her,
and grief for the loss of her.
If it is all that, is that all?
If Merton never was here without contradictions,
can he be unequivocally gone?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The body, granted.
Trust the Abbey to correctly archive its skeletons,
and the simple grave visited by thousands – there you go again –
is assurance enough.
But the mind he equally so disdained,
the multilingual indefatigable intelligence
that emptied libraries East and West
and then took to rattletrap typewriter
to replenish them . . .
Look on his works, and despair . . .
Look on 53 years of slice from Eternity,
and aspire to his nothingness,