The Living Law

The Living Law / Jesse K. Butler

Our bus leaves the prairies, escaping the flatness
that stretches for days without break.
Those long strained horizons are too much to witness.
Your eyes and your mind start to ache.

The landscape breaks out into ridges and gullies,
with purpose shown through every flaw.
Some days you can scrape back the world’s shallow polish,
and glimpse at the wisdom at work in its fullness:
                                    a deep and
                                                         living
                                                                       law.

My self-respect slowly begins to unravel.
I’ve worn these same clothes now for days.
The sun’s dropping down till it’s right at eye-level.
I try, but I can’t meet its gaze.

It’s as round and austere, and with edges as sharp,
as the blade of a circular saw.
But I watch its geometry soften and warp
as it meets the horizon to gently absorb
                                  beneath the
                                                           living
                                                                      law.

The passengers all hold this suffering in common.
They’re bound by the comforts they lack.
A soft even darkness has fallen, but someone
keeps snoring a couple rows back.

Well, sometimes I’m eager for human encounter,
but most of the time I withdraw.
On days like today I’m a lonely dissenter –
it’s like I don’t know that we’re all living under
                                    the one same
                                                           living
                                                                      law.

An old woman’s searching the floor with a case.
She asks for help finding her teeth.
I want to turn back from her big earnest face,
but I’m held by the life underneath.

We wake here and struggle to shape a response,
all tangled in hunger and awe.
But then something cuts through the dull resonance
and draws us to join a reciprocal dance
                                    and love the
                                                            living
                                                                        law.


The Living Law: Copyright 2021 by Jesse K. Butler. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “The Living Law

    1. Thanks, Gaelan. A lot of threads came together in this poem. The phrase “the living law” came from an older poem–a very early version of “613”. I’m not sure I can claim much credit for it. It was one of those times when trying to find a rhyme gives you an unexpected result. Someone pointed it out to me as an idea that needed to be developed. After that I wrote some pieces of this poem, then forgot about it for a decade. I found those fragments in an old notebook earlier this year. At the time I happened to be reading Donald Sheehan’s “The Grace of Incorruption”, which had me thinking about the mystical aspects of the Mosaic Law. I guess that gave me the context to finally finish the poem. The narrative was actually the last part to develop. When I was younger I rode a lot of cross-country Greyhound buses, and for whatever reason that felt like the right story to tell. And the part at the end, about a lady asking me to help her find her dentures on the bus floor at night–it’s a true story! Thanks for reading, my friend. Blessed Holy Week to you and your family.

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