An Epistemology of Flesh, by Daniel Klawitter
The slight and the profound appear in An Epistemology of Flesh, Poems by Daniel Klawitter. Leading off with the titular poem, it begins:
The suffering of the body
is most factual.
As real as a rock;
Pain is certain knowledge
on a cellular level:
an epistemology of flesh
as hard and sharp as metal.
But love can loom much larger
that what pain can comprehend.
So we turn to metaphysics,
when we break instead of bend.
The poem possessing a teasing, sprung quality. It is one of those poems one stops to think about. The reality (“absolutely actual”) of our flesh and how “we turn to metaphysics/when we break instead of bend.” But before we know it, we reach lighter poems. One about catching snowflakes on the tongue and likening them to angels.
Must often be examined
To make certain
That stupid teeth
Have room to feast
(“The Tale of the Tooth”)
Klawitter subject matter runs the gamut, from Kierkegaard to sausages, from the nature of evil to the differences between dogs and cats. Most poems possess sing-songy rhyme schemes. The rhymes make these short pieces deceptively accessible. Like a magic trick, the reader finds the situation changed from playful rhymes to a deep meditation on serious matters.
They say that God will never give you
more burdens than you can carry.
But if you ask me (and I think Job would agree)
some people suffer more than necessary.
Poetry is about concision of expression and “Theodicy” embodies that perfectly. Beneath the rhymes and the cliched expressions (“But if you ask me … people suffer more than necessary.”) On the one hand, “Duh!” But on the other hand, the poem expresses so much through so little. The poet sounds a little exasperated by what God has people endure. One doesn’t have to look very far to see human suffering. Look too long and despair sets in.
Another kind of economy exists with “What All Cats Know.” It reads like a nursery rhyme, part childhood fable, ready to tell young impressionable minds an object lesson. This one is a little Grimm and Gorey:
Dogs are prose and prone to please.
Mice are good for eating.
When moonlight splinters through the trees,
We watch humans while they’re sleeping.
Although the last line is a bit creepy and voyeuristic. We go from lighthearted aphorisms to an image of dread. The poem continues:
Disobedience is heroic.
It’s wrong to persecute witches.
Hell is a world with no poets–
And heaven is a charm of finches.
For a slightly silly, slightly childish beginning, we end in another idiosyncratic vision of the afterlife and its inhabitants.
The rhyming poetry reflects Klawitter’s background as “singer/lyricist for a folk-rock hand” and his unique spiritual outlook can be traced to his education: a B.A. in Religion Studies and a Master of Divinity degree “with a concentration on Justice and Peace Studies.”
Klawitter’s outlook, at once revolutionary and theological, laments humanity’s fallen nature, but also contains hope that, yes, we can improve our lot. It is how he can write a poem in dedication to El Salvador Martyrs, killed by US-funded, Reagan-era death squads, but still embrace a “foolosophy” that delights in the wonders of nature like a latter-day Saint Francis.