At This Precise Moment of History

By Thomas James Merton 1915–1968
1. At this precise moment of history   
    With Goody-two-shoes running for Congress
    We are testing supersonic engines   
    To keep God safe in the cherry tree.   
    When I said so in this space last Thursday   
    I meant what I said: power struggles.

2. You would never dream of such corn. The colonials in   
    sandalwood like running wide open and available for   
    protection. You can throw them away without a refund.

3. Dr. Hanfstaengel who was not called Putzi except by   
    those who did not know him is taped in the national   
    archives. J. Edgar Hoover he ought to know
    And does know.

    But calls Dr. Hanfstaengel Putzi nevertheless   
    Somewhere on tape in the   
    Archives.

    He (Dr. H.) is not a silly man.   
    He left in disgust
    About the same time Shirley Temple
    Sat on Roosevelt’s knee   
    An accomplished pianist
    A remembered personality.   
    He (Dr. H.) began to teach   
    Immortal anecdotes
    To his mother a Queen Bee   
    In the American colony.

4. What is your attitude toward historical subjects?   
    —Perhaps it’s their size!

5. When I said this in space you would never believe   
    Corn Colonel was so expatriated.
    —If you think you know,
    Take this wheel
    And become standard.

6. She is my only living mother
    This bee of the bloody arts
    Bandaging victims of Saturday’s dance   
    Like a veritable sphinx
    In a totally new combination.

7. The Queen Mother is an enduring vignette   
       at an early age.
    Now she ought to be kept in submersible   
       decompression chambers

    For a while.

8. What is your attitude toward historical subjects   
    Like Queen Colonies?
    —They are permanently fortified
    For shape retention.

9. Solid shades   
    Seven zippered pockets   
    Close to my old place
    Waiting by the road
    Big disk brakes
    Spinoff
    Zoom
    Long lights stabbing at the   
    Two together piggyback   
    In a stark sports roadster

    Regretting his previous outburst   
    Al loads his Cadillac   
    With lovenests.

10. She is my only living investment   
      She examines the housing industry   
      Counts 3.5 million postwar children   
      Turning twenty-one
      And draws her own conclusion   
      In the commercial fishing field.

11. Voice of little sexy ventriloquist mignonne:
      “Well I think all of us are agreed and sincerely I my-
      self believe that honest people on both sides have got   
      it all on tape. Governor Reagan thinks that nuclear   
      wampums are a last resort that ought not to be re-
      sorted.” (But little mignonne went right to the point   
      with: “We have a commitment to fulfill and we better   
      do it quick.” No dupe she!)

      All historians die of the same events at least twice.

13. I feel that I ought to open this case with an apology.   
      Dr. H. certainly has a beautiful voice. He is not a silly   
      man. He is misunderstood even by Presidents.

14. You people are criticizing the Church but what are   
      you going to put in her place? Sometime sit down with   
      a pencil and paper and ask yourself what you’ve got   
      that the Church hasn’t.

15. Nothing to add
      But the big voice of a detective   
      Using the wrong first names   
      In national archives.

16. She sat in shocking pink with an industrial zipper spe-
      cially designed for sitting on the knees of presidents in   
      broad daylight. She spoke the president’s mind. “We   
      have a last resort to be resorted and we better do it   
      quick.” He wondered at what he had just said.

17. It was all like running wideopen in a loose gown   
      Without slippers   
      At least someplace.

Thomas Merton, “At This Precise Moment of History” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Copyright © 1968, 1969 by The Trustees of the Merton Legacy Trust. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1977)

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Poet Thomas James Merton 1915–1968

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Prose Poem

Biography

A monk who lived in isolation for several years, and one of the most well-known Catholic writers of the twentieth century, Thomas Merton was a prolific poet, religious writer, and essayist whose diversity of work has rendered a precise definition of his life and an estimation of the significance of his career difficult. Merton was a Trappist, a member of a Roman Catholic brotherhood known for its austere lifestyle and vow of . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Prose Poem

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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