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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

7.13; Time (untitled); Ritual

By: Michael Lasater



I got lost, somewhere 

           down in the city.

I coughed and traffic stopped – 

            it stopped dead. 

Walking to the corner 

I caught my reflection

in a storefront window.  

A word … a sentence?  


Time (untitled)

The thing about time is that

it can turn 

                    inside out –

it can gather in pools and eddies –

               it can be all at once or not at all –

                                                it can come to an end.

Hawking describes 

      imaginary time –

                    time in another direction –

                               and I imagine:

          something like a mirror 

                   with no boundary,

                              reflecting itself.

The composer Ligeti stops time in time – 

for him, music is a time object

          evoked by time, living in time –

                   and I think: so is poetry,

                               for that matter.

My father died like all the men in his line – 

          heart turned to stone 

                              in a moment.

          My mother phoned to tell me. 

He had just been outside,

                             working in his garden. 


I’ve stopped at the cathedral this morning

           on your behalf.

Stealing from a flame burning 

in memory of a stranger    

           I light a candle 

in memory of you, so often

                    a stranger to me

in the ferocity of your belief.

Listen.            This is my offering.

I – unbeliever –


          a stranger’s faith 

for the sake of faith –  

I – unbeliever –


          a stranger’s hope

in the face of seeming hopelessness –

I – unbeliever –


          a stranger’s prayer

to frame my wordless 


                    of unknowing –

I – unbeliever – 

           perform this ritual of belief

                                in your stead. 

This is my gift to you –

the gift I can give.

Your flame burns brightly –

as brilliant as any other.


            Outside.           It’s starting to rain.



Michael Lasater is Professor and Chair of New Media at Indiana University South Bend. He performed for over a decade as a professional trombonist with ensembles including the Metropolitan Opera, Bolshoi Opera, and the Aspen Festival Orchestra; produced video documentaries on poetry and music distributed via PBS, Barr Films, and Coronet Film & Video; and has exhibited video art in well over a hundred venues in the US and Europe. His poetry has been published in Heartland!; Kansas Time + Place; and The Heartland Review Press, where he is the winner of the 2019 Joy Bale Boone Poetry Prize.


It’s funny how bits and pieces of us can live on in places long after we’ve moved away – we can be more alive where we were than where we are.  My memory location in this poem is Tarrytown, N.Y., just up the Hudson from New York City – where my wife and I lived when we were first married.  I briefly studied musicology at NYU, did a master’s degree at Juilliard, played trombone for the Metropolitan Opera and the New Jersey Symphony.  I was often downtown around NYU and Washington Square, and I often got lost in the maze of Village streets, sometimes on purpose.  Stopping traffic with a cough – that’s a riff on Mary Karr’s A Perfect Mess.

Time (untitled)

I think time is a chameleon – that in all of time there is only one moment – that the present is a dream in which we remember the future.  As a musician, I played (and still listen to) Ligeti and Boulez, two composers who pin down time in time, literally turning time inside out.  Hawking – I struggle to comprehend what he says about time, but I (unbeliever) take it as an article of faith that he’s got it right.  While I was writing and revising my poem, I happened across Brenda Hillman’s Time Problem, and, of course, kept an eye on T.S. Eliot.


I think there are some things about this piece I can give away without poisoning it.  I am the speaker, the unbeliever – of long standing, as a matter of fact – I gave up on belief in my teens.  Which is not to say that I deny divinity.  I have great respect for the beauty of ritual – how could I not, having performed in cantatas, masses and oratorios from Bach to (at least) Stravinsky.  Poetry itself is ritual.  It would be correct to read this poem as being addressed to a specific person, or to many, or to the entire contraption of belief.  For all of that, I didn’t pursue Ritual to deliver some manifesto or to beat up on religion or my religious friends.  My intent was to write a poem that could live in its own skin.  I remembered the several times I have stopped at St. Pat’s, and, unbeliever, lit a candle in memory of, if nothing else, memory itself.  At some point I wrote the opening line.  Then the poem took over." 


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