Four First Books
Dark Under Kiganda Stars, by Lilah Hegnauer. Ausable, 117 pp., $14.
Citizen, by Andrew Feld. HarperCollins, 75 pp., $12.95.
Honey and Junk, by Dana Goodyear.W.W. Norton, 71 pp., $23.95.
March Book, by Jesse Ball. Grove, 105 pp., $13.
Like Jesse Ball, the other remarkable new poet under discussion here, Lilah Hegnauer is distressingly young: Dark Under Kiganda Stars was written, the publishers are quick to declare, while its author was still a student at a small Catholic college. Hegnauer shows her age more than Ball, and these poems too often lurch through the familiar stumbles of youth, the clumsiness and strain of a voice still discovering itself. But the book's best poems are eloquent, defenseless, unvarnished, and marked by a refreshing candor; the sensibility they display is curious, sincere, self-doubting, and enormously appealing in its longing to be useful in a world much in need of aid.The poems arise from a summer Hegnauer spent working at a Catholic school in Uganda, where she was given a class of students and a stick to beat them with, and told to "teach anything." The book courts all of the dangers attending work so driven by subject matter, and adds to them the perils of its particular subject: dangers of exoticism, of cultural exploitation, of condescension, of mere voyeurism; and also the worse risk of crippling self-consciousness in avoiding these dangers. But Hegnauer, possessed of what seem to be genuine compassion and genuine modesty—and of an exceedingly rare capacity to take real interest in other people—avoids all of the dangers of which our post-colonial age has become so pointedly aware; and she does so while seeming entirely and marvelously oblivious of the current proprieties of cultural exchange, relying instead upon the simpler and sturdier virtues of sympathy and respect.
One trusts this sympathy all the more because it so seldom devolves to mere piety.All of Hegnauer's virtues are on display in the book's first poem,"Headshapes," in which a new teacher finds herself unable to tell her students apart:
The same hair, same shirt, same color,
I couldn't tell boys from girls without bending like a pecking hen
to see the skirts and trousers. I started looking at headshapes—
how far and round the head curves above the ears, how low or long
the forehead is, how broad or sharp the bridge of the nose, how far
the lobes of the ears reach. Do the cheeks come out much in a smile,
and does the skin around the chin tighten towards those earlobes?
It's not often one comes across this kind of honesty in poems: here Hegnauer admits to the first cliché of cross-cultural incompetence, they all look alike. Far more compelling than any display of guilt at this fact is the resolve with which Hegnauer sets about trying to change it, the analytical description of physiognomy that takes up the bulk of the poem. She makes no attempt to seem exemplary or noble; she's far too busy trying to do her job.And there is certainly something more than a little chilling in the anatomy of a student's smile, its reduction from an expression of human significance to the mechanical motions of a face. This makes all the more remarkable the poem's final gesture, as the increasingly comfortable teacher is able to call her students by their African names:
I stopped calling out
Jane and Lillian and Joseph; Mukabalisa and Mugalula and Amanyire
are the names they use with one another—spoken affirmation
of Ssenono's vein running barefaced, bisecting his forehead, and the base
of his skull curving on the same plane as the backs of his earlobes.
These final lines give the poem a moving and masterful shape: the close observation that had been a mark of foreignness is now anything but clinical or distancing, having become instead a sign of intimacy. The lines are also beautiful, achieving a quiet and sensuous precision in description:"the base / of his skull curving on the same plane as the backs of his earlobes."
In its narrative of a young American woman confronting the difficulties of life and work in a strange and sometimes savage country, Dark Under Kiganda Stars is likely to remind readers of Carolyn Forché's immensely influential second book, The Country Between Us. That Forché's influence extends to this volume is something Hegnauer acknowledges in a short statement included with the publicity materials distributed by the publisher; but it's when Hegnauer seems to be imitating Forché that the poems are at their weakest. Forché's poetry is a different instrument from Hegnauer's, plying a richer music and inhabiting a more grandly imagistic mode.These are not necessarily, or uncomplicatedly, virtues: more than one critic has been troubled by the ease with which Forché's El Salvador poems can seem to find transcendence in atrocity, the way in which a grand, sometimes Rilkean cadence can serve not to dramatize, but rather to palliate despair. But whatever their ethical or theoretical complications, Forché's gestures toward the sublime are always guided by a discriminating, often masterful poetic sensibility; Hegnauer's grand gestures are nearly always poetic failures.This is very much, for Hegnauer, an issue of endings, and too often her poems' final lines collapse into banality ("When grass dies, / to what will rain cling and reflect?"), or wide-eyed, vague mysticism ("They come, into the endurance of grace, voyages out of otherness"), or some combination of the two ("I give thanks...for the / ink to write, the margins to hold me";"Did I / still share the odors, the quiet, / did I breathe your silence?"). Occasionally a fine poem is marred by a closing that should have been struck by a watchful editor, as in "Proverb XII:The Hunter."The last of a series of poems that explore African (I assume) proverbs—in this case,"The hunter in search / of an elephant / does not stop to throw / stones at birds"—the poem closes with a lovely negation of its source:
There was no elephant,
there was no hunt, there
were only tinkerbirds,
palm swifts and the black goat
trilling and bleating; here
and there a honeyguide
puffed its yellow cheekfeathers
with air and sound and song—
more song, I fear, than I'll ever remember.
The book has done enough, by the final pages in which this poem appears, to establish the quietly elegiac tone of a speaker aware that she will inevitably forget the cherishable details of her experiences; the clumsy final line only detracts from the honeyguide and the slight, almost unnoticed transcendence it effects: "with air and sound and song."
Whatever their stylistic choices, all successful poems tread a fine formal line, and if these straining grandeurs are one of Hegnauer's characteristic missteps, occasional dips into prose are the other, as here in "Avoidance":
Narrow wooden signs nailed to jackfruit trees in the primary school yard
advise in bold black letters "Avoid Early Sex" and "Avoid Early Marriage."
Fildah gives a speech about her sister, Rose, and lowers her eyes and voice
telling us Rose is in Kampala selling chapats to taxi riders.
But these failures, having less to do with artifice, are nearer to Hegnauer's virtues, principal among which is her plainness, her ability to trust in detail and narrative faithfully and unembroideredly conveyed.This is not to say that Hegnauer's poems are without their graces, however, and her finest poems combine an urge to unvarnished communication with a formal intelligence that allows for carefully modulated music. Embodying these accomplishments is "Scythe Singer," a slyly erotic poem in which the poet watches an Ugandan seminary student who will become her lover:
Swing and drop, arc and swing,
the drop of each side catches me most—
or the pause and drop—or the pause,
step, and drop. Or the one movement—
not the distinct parts. Gerald scythes
the convent yard on Tuesday mornings
This marvelously constructed opening conveys all of the erotic fixation the poem wisely leaves unspoken; as it admires first just "the drop," then "the pause and drop," then "the pause, / step and drop," and finally "the one movement," the poem enacts a charmingly deflected lover's blazon. The poem also nicely skews, in both perspective and affect, the pastoral tradition of the mower's lament; it's gratifying to suspect that Marvell hovers somewhere behind these lines.
None of Hegnauer's poems has appeared in a major journal, and Dark Under Kiganda Stars arrives unheralded by a first book prize or by a flock of adoring blurbs. One hopes that readers will find it regardless. It may well be that Hegnauer would have been better served by a more mature debut, a book of fewer blemishes and more consistent accomplishment. But these are fascinating poems, sharply observant, richly felt, and, at their best, formally keen.
It is difficult to imagine a debut more heralded than Andrew Feld's Citizen, a National Poetry Series selection that has already been the subject of a great deal of admiring discussion. And the book offers a great deal worthy of admiration: these are bold, risk-taking poems, insistent in their assumption of ethical burdens, ambitious in their tackling of themes too few of our younger poets attempt, or attempt intelligently. It is also, as its title might suggest, an intensely American book, not only in its poems of cities and suburbs, of national memory and national shame, but also in its broad, demotic rhythms and its syntax of Whitmanian expanse. Imagistically bold—to the point of recklessness and sometimes of folly—the poems are also extraordinarily fluent, and remarkably assured in their inhabitations of form, both the expansive free verse that is their usual mode and their occasional, surprisingly deft use of rhymed stanzas.All of these accomplishments are very much on display, and they have been widely, and rightly, praised; and so it's with some hesitation that I admit my own reservations about a book that seems to me far too often far too concerned with display: displays of cleverness, of a sometimes empty technical proficiency, of intricate, studied, largely mechanical compassion.
Part of the problem is that Feld's most striking gestures show so clearly their origins. His love of wildly figurative, wildly ornate description is inherited from Mark Doty, whom Feld occasionally, in a poem like "The Drunk Singer I," seems less to imitate than to channel (after, it should be noted, sounding a pale echo of Stevens's ravishing "Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals"):
From where she sits, her head below our belts,
the harsh, thick-throated gutturals come up,
are softened into slowly spoken labials
and rise to breathy aspirations. She's gone
far beyond the limits of her cover song,
—I will always love you—or some other lie,
into a quiet place where something broken
in bright scales is being disassembled
and then put back together, word by word.
Imagine yourself on the streets of Provincetown, replace the female singer of these lines with a man in a dress, and this could pass for a poem from Atlantis or Sweet Machine.
Even more striking is Feld's debt to Linda Gregerson, whose powerfully associative meditations on domestic horror hover behind several of these poems. Like Gregerson, Feld is drawn to the quiet, suburban atrocities that occur just beneath our noticing, especially those atrocities that are, finally, caused less by malice than by incompetence or accident:"Again, we're called to see error," writes Feld of a street whose elms ("those green constructions of the civic mind," he calls them in a wonderful, Marvellian phrase) have been decimated by a preventable outbreak of disease. At their worst, Feld's poems can seem like parodies of Gregerson, whose best work is fueled by a logic that makes her leaps and juxtapositions seem inevitable, bound by a fierce and fine intelligence. In a poem like "On Fire," which opens Citizen, what we are offered instead is a Rube Goldberg contraption of contrived horrors. Let me attempt a précis: After a striking opening ("Having been taught by fools, how else could I have ended up / but as I am? a man who panics at the sound of his own voice, / a blusterer..."), we find ourselves in a classroom where ten-year-old children are being shown a video of an explosion—precisely what explosion, or why these children are watching it, is unclear. After some fairly vague meditation on memory and time ("Captured, they say, on film, as in: pulled out of time"), our attention is directed toward a particular boy,"who even earlier // that year came home to find his mother hanging from a rope / in the kitchen," and who, in his grief and in his new "hate for anyone of the same sex as his mother," becomes a source of pity and fascination for "our new teacher," who is convinced the boy "also needed this knowledge" [what knowledge?],"but she couldn't give it to him." Finally with this teacher we reach the real focus of the poem: our speaker, we find, has all along been leaning his head against "the antique white lace of her / dress," a dress by means of which the poem is able to resolve itself in tragedy:
And on the whole length of the hand-sewn inner seam
that started at her wrist and ran all the way down to her ankle,
no one had remembered to place even one small label warning:
if you touch the sleeve of this garment to the still-hot coils
of an electric stove, it will explode.Which is what happened.
There's the kind of scream you hear in movies.
There was so much fabric and all of it on fire.
Her hair too, which was long, as I remember. She came running
from the faculty kitchen, as if she could escape what she was
turning into. But all she did was excite and encourage the flames.
The horror of the image has been heightened with every contrivance at the poet's disposal, from the staccato rhythms of the short sentences to the odd Ovidian drama of the final line ("what she was / turning into"). But the contrivance is too visible to be effective, and the bizarrely ornate set-up of the scene shifts the focus from human suffering to poetic ingenuity.
Extravagance is always a temptation for a poet of such gifts, and Citizen is marred on almost every page by Feld's scattershot images; his processions of epiphanies, far too many of which are merely banal ("so corruption is essential in us. It's in our guts"); his gestures of profundity ("the thirty-seven different dialects of rain"); and also by figures so brazenly ridiculous as to compel a kind of perverse admiration:
The way a carp's speckled brown and white head
flashes just below the surface of the Potomac
night waters, Richard Nixon's penis almost enters
the national consciousness, as a thin gold thread
of urine stitches him to an August night in 1973 . . .
These lines, from "Best and Only," might have been the opening gambit of a great comic poem, a poem in which these later lines might also have found a place:"For these and other crimes,may they be lodged / in the sulphurous cavern of Satan's anus forever." But Feld sabotages the poem's potential as real comedy by turning it toward a stagy sympathy for Nixon and his friend"the Cuban financier Bebe Rebozo," a sympathy rendered utterly unconvincing by the poem's invocation of Satan's ass: "But what of the genuine warmth all the biographers // agree burns between these two men, the actual, / human love they felt for each other . . . ?"The poem gives every indication that it wants to be taken seriously, but these lines can only be ridiculous after the far more interesting invective that precedes them.
"Best and Only" redeems itself at least partially in its final section, a marvelous twitchy abecedarian "Elegy" for the twentieth century, or at least the second half of it. But Feld shows himself to best advantage in the book's longest sequence, "Great Hill Lyric," which mourns the sad diminishment of Thoreau's beloved landscape:
And then, as if to show that he was right in thinking
the essential mysteries must remain unsolved,
they broke the distance down, first into half
and three-quarter acre lots, and then the smaller
portions of five-by-seven picture windows
facing the more expensive waterfront properties.
Here abstraction rises from description, and the insights it leads to are less strained than elsewhere in Feld's work. His rhythms are calmer, his syntax more measured, his figures tamed by a discipline that makes only more lovely their appearance: "the sun, that ancient scholar with one great thought." When Feld writes in "the clear light / of simple description," as he rightly calls it, his poems can achieve a resonant, unforced grandeur welcome and rare in the poetry of his generation.
The typical poem of Dana Goodyear's first collection is short and sly, painedly ironic, proudly eccentric; it makes a display of fearlessness, of facing up to the worst in things; it stakes a great claim to wisdom in a kind of "deadpan" (the word is her own) macabre. Alternating, with a few exceptions, between a loose, fairly shapeless free verse and a ballad measure deliberately naïve in the simplicity of its rhymes and the clumsiness of its rhythms, the poems would like to lay claim to the power and prestige of their most obvious forebears, Dickinson and Plath: like the former, their narratives and disclosures are often wryly slant; like the latter they are quick to find the violent and the grotesque lurking just beneath the surface of the world.And yet, though real grief is evident in the best of these poems, their gestures seem far too often staged, their deflection unmotivated by a need to guard real wounds, their violent imaginings more willed than inevitable.
The primary pleasure on offer in Honey and Junk is the frisson of transgression.The poems love to offend our sensibilities-though never too drastically, never risking real horror or despair-through unexpected juxtapositions (as in the volume's title), discomforting turnings of familiar phrases ("Things get better before they get worse"), a penchant for the decadence of minor nineteenth-century verse ("The blood caught in your outspread arm / hangs like frozen blooms, a dropped love-bough"), and the odd, stagily clever nonsequitur ("We were on vacation / so tried new sex").At times the poems can seem like little more than hastily assembled montages of such effects. Here is the first half or so of "The Lion in the Igloo":
The winter it snowed fifteen feet,
our dog, like a circus bear,
broke the chain and crashed
the cover of a neighbor's pool.
Of the log cabin I can say:
foxes found the rabbits caged in there.
Soon we went our separate ways.
At the pueblo of Acoma,
the oldest inhabited village in the United States,
I climbed into a ceremonial pit:
just as I had hidden in the closet
when she came home from ikebana class,
or sleepwalked to their bed
when they had gone to France,
waking to a policeman's
flashlight in my eye.
Nothing in these lines, or in the lines that follow them, helps me to discern any coherent pattern for the elements jumbled here:the anecdote of the first four lines seems of passing interest but inconsequential, having nothing to do with the carnage of the two lines that follow it, while only the slightest associational logic compels the movement from the pueblo to the closet. It helps to know, as we eventually do, that the shifting pronouns refer to the speaker's parents, and the poem ends with a compelling memory of the father's "next wedding night," when, the speaker remembers, she "tried to be the perfect flower girl." But the poem's primary occupation seems to be eccentricity, the strangeness of association and action—the circus bear dog, the log cabin occupied by (only?) rabbits, the ceremonial pit, ikebana, the policeman whose purpose we never learn. If there is a narrative here, the poem has done nearly all it can to keep us from it, and without a principle of selection discernible in the poem's parts it's hard to learn anything about the sensibility that has put them together.
And yet, even among the willed obscurity and slightness of so many of these poems there are moments of loveliness and force, lines and images that give some intimation of the poet Goodyear might become: "You weren't there for the dreams—they came later, / when the dirty tree was yellowing / and the honey crystalled in the jar"; or, in a line that has the real chill other poems attempt to counterfeit:"I taste you in smoked meat near the bone."And there are two poems in the book that strike me as real and sustained achievements. The first is "Séance at Tennis," a strangely moving narrative of a teasing exchange between speaker and the ghost of a lover:"I play with an old boyfriend, to tease you out. / In white shorts that you've never seen before. /You storm—wind, panic in the tree." By the poem's quietly beautiful final line—"the sky turns blue with your held breath"—we have been shown a world whose only logic is grief, all of nature (the wind in the trees, the sky) a cipher for the lost beloved.
But the book's best poem is "Dream of Safety," in which the techniques familiar from other poems-the turned cliché, the dark wit, the casually naïve rhymes (arranged here in pentameter couplets)—coalesce into something starker than melodrama or grotesquerie:
Expiration comes no matter what we do.
No mindfulness forestalls the serial
slough and clockwork days of burial.
It's end-rhymed slogans that ring doubly true.
One might be tempted to forgive nearly any misstep in a poet who can toss so miraculous a phrase as "the serial / slough and clockwork days of burial." (One should, of course, resist the temptation.) As the poem moves from banality to banality it makes good on the claim of the first stanza ("It's end-rhymed slogans that ring doubly true"); tired truths are spoken with a new urgency of feeling.This poem's tutelary spirit is not Dickinson or Plath, but rather Auden, whose dry, tragic-gestured wit and devastating propriety infuse it with a sharp poignancy. Here is the final stanza:
Abandon, please, the fiction of the will,
for gone is gone for good or ill.
Our dead stream by and streak the water blue.
Don't let the smell of burning comfort you.
There's nothing rehearsed or condescending about these lines, nothing postured; there is only language stripped of pretense and stained by emotion.The simple, clicked—shut perfection of the rhymes works well to reinforce the sense of inevitability that undergirds the stanza; and the truncated rhythm of the second line—its fifth foot has been clipped—is more devastating than anything in the poem's declarations. In "My MO," Goodyear offers in miniature the creed of her aesthetic: "Pan, as you know, / is a radio signal for distress. / Deadpan, then, is what you get / when you have no other choice." Goodyear wants to convince us in these poems that her back is always against a wall, and in "Dream of Safety" we believe her. But too often in these poems the wall seems little more than a mime's imagined glass, nothing more substantial or threatening than air.
Perhaps the most striking quality of Jesse Ball's enormously exciting first book is its strangeness, the fact that these poems sound like no one else, certainly like no one else in Ball's own generation, or in the generation or so preceding him. When they fail, as they often do, they fail in unexpected ways; they seem entirely uninterested in the going tricks of the trade. And yet "strangeness" may not be quite the right word for the unexpectedness of these poems, which are never merely eccentric, and which never suffer from the kind of rootlessness that afflicts so much of our current "experimental" writing. Instead, these poems are steeped, in both subject and manner, in the past; I can't remember the last poet to arrive with so assured a claim to the full authority of a tradition. Ball has read deeply and well, but more importantly he has read wisely, and when these poems remember earlier poets they show a remarkable discernment: among the moderns, for instance, Ball recalls only the highest luminaries, Stevens, Lowell, Ashbery, even Geoffrey Hill ("be in severance, severance's pay," writes Ball in "Manuman Notebook"), whose greater influence on younger American poets would be welcomed.But Ball's inheritance is larger still, reaching out of the English tradition to make use of styles and musics ranging from that of Cavafy, whose mythic, scarred landscapes these poems frequent, to the savage absurdism so important a strain in post- WorldWar II European literature.This kind of voracity is a rare quality in a poetic culture that rests so much on the workshop reading of peers, and it's one of the signs of a potentially major poetic talent. The March Book is far from a great book, and there have been recent debuts—Peter Streckfus's The Cuckoo leaps to mind—that make for more satisfying and moving reading; but seldom do I read a new poet who seems to me so likely to make a genuine contribution to our literature.
That's a grand assertion, and needs some demonstrating. But first the qualifications: though The March Book is remarkably assured and accomplished, and though Ball is prodigiously talented, there are important and persistent failures in these poems. Ball's themes and obsessions are commendably serious and pursued with real ambition. Foremost among them is the passing out of the world of a promised fullness, seen variously as "that which might / have been the holy" or as the certainty of secular virtue,"lives . . . patterned on those lives that were best led before." But Ball seems at times to mistake stiffness for seriousness, and the poems can take on an over-formal starchiness in their diction: in "Diplomacy" an ambassador is said to have "lupine eyes"; "House of the Old Doctor" ends "we are near the truth, and daren't speak." Daren't! All of these poems exist in a world, or worlds, not quite our own, as though they had stepped into the Brueghel drawing that graces the book's cover.At their best they have a compelling, irrefutable logic; at their worst, they seem merely fanciful, and fail to forge a link between their odd, cramped, ill-lit worlds and our own. Such is the case with "Diplomacy" and its lupine ambassador:
Delegates line the walls,
sternly dressed, coats buttoned to the throat,
monocles, spectacles glaring. Hands trained to stillness
are immeasurably still.The ambassador ascends the stairs
with a racket of hooves.
The poem piles detail upon detail with novelistic relish, and does so charmingly enough, but it lacks any sort of urgency. Nothing more crucial seems at stake here than invention.
Most of the poems in The March Book, however thrilling their occasional beauty, however promising the fierce intelligence they everywhere display (an intelligence that puts to shame all but a few of Ball's peers), falter and finally fail beneath the weight of these faults. But a handful of successful poems are scattered through the volume: "No. 31, Conflict With a God," which is a fine return to the Leda story ("I gave Helen to a world of suitors. / Too many suited her."); also "A Digression," "Measures," "At Dusk," "Instructions," "Problems of Warfare." And there are two poems that seem to me very nearly perfect: "The General" and "An Etching." The second of these is long enough, and intricate enough in its narrative, to forbid discussion of it in so cramped a space as this review. But in passing, note the thrilling vividness of a single image:
The King's justice is a wild thing,
bold and curious: it sinks its teeth in ankles,
climbs into laps. It buries its nose in drink
and, overcome, makes declarations in public
that others will regret.
I can think of few things more chilling than the words spoken by the agent of this "justice," about to hang a poacher who has hidden himself in a tree: "'You will come down,' he says, 'but not, / I think, all the way.'"
"The General" is a simpler but no less affecting poem. It takes place in an unidentified imperial past, and is spoken in the voice of a commander surveying his troops on the eve of battle. Here is the poem's second half; in the first lines quoted here, the General remembers the home he has left:
In autumn, from the orchard wall,
the sea is visible, unceasing.
And so I gathered men and came
here where the lines must hold.
Who among us can name his home,
can speak without fear and stand
resolute outside the haze of his own life
when the mountains come,
disguised as horsemen, sending
their weight in waves before them
shuddering over the cold ground?
This final image ("when the mountains come, / disguised as horsemen") is worthy of early Lowell, but the poem's real pathos lies in the unvarnished disillusionment of its voice.The pageantry of empire exists in this poem stripped of empire's ideology: it is only "the sea,""visible, unceasing" that draws the speaker "here where the lines must hold," not any promise of civilization or dream of glory.What Ford Madox Ford called "the big words" of the soldier's romance—"courage, loyalty, honour, constancy"—have been laid to rest.
This disillusionment points to the characteristic timbre of Ball's temperament as a poet, at least in this first collection: for all their occasional brilliance of surface these are essentially tragic poems. "The tragedy of your life / may lie in wait,disguised as your life,"he writes in "Untitled," and this conviction makes all the more poignant the poems' frequent gestures towards hope.The vision of fullness that has left the world may not have left for good, or so at least these poems allow themselves to dream, as in these lines from "In Part":
There was a moment when I was aware
of beings in the air above my head.
Have they left? Or do they loiter there,
attendant, faithful? Sit quiet,
and let the water be, let the false face
arrange itself or not, as marble basins
fill with rain, fill and empty, empty
of their own accord.
Disillusionment has become the easiest of stances in our disillusioned age; it takes far more maturity and courage in a young poet to recuperate from such an age something resembling, however faintly, hope. I intend this as a self-reproach. Nothing is more congenial for this critic than narratives of cultural decline, and surely there is more than ample evidence around us to fuel such narratives. But this flawed and outstanding debut, ranking as it does with the best first books of the emerging generation—books of Dan Chiasson, Ilya Kaminsky, Peter Streckfus, Miranda Field—ought to lay to rest all of our convictions of the imminent demise of our poetry. Surely it has seldom rested in better hands."Though it has never been true," writes Ball at the end of "Untitled,""in these // unruly days, let prayer be true."