Daniel Tobin

A Brief Portfolio
November 22, 2021 Tobin Daniel


(Fan and Spearhead)

Marguerite Teilhard de Chambon


Like conifers in the Bois de Boulogne where he would walk
dreaming of Auvergne, home, the massif of Puy-de-Dome
long before his exile east, that’s how he envisioned the rise,


this progressive genesis of the universe, and of the human
phenomenon, across the fraught, material frontier into life,
and life, fanning, groping—directed chance—into thought.


When he would visit Clermont-Ferrand, my dearest cousin,
as a child, he would carry frogs for study into his bedroom.
Years later, I invited him to Rue de Fleurus, to my Institute


to school my girls on evolution, never mind what he called
“the cage of dogma,” mindful instead of truth’s “axis,”
and him knowing as I do–despite my male nom de plume


the need to feminize the species. From the front, then,
he wrote to me of blasted ridges, of poplar trees misted
with gas, of this world recasting itself anew through battle.


For humankind is the spearhead, our restlessness not sin,
not the madness of a Faust, but the wake of some radial
energy drawing us forward out of un-life, and even there


mind in evidence in the mesh of things before that deep
organic likeness stamps every creature, and then the like
of us steps fitfully down from the trees out of the grasses


wavering in sun and wind, out of our shadowy cousins
diverging, roving, dying out, as though God had scored
on the one Tablet the same word for arrow and for life.


(We Thinking Reeds)

Auguste Valensin


In its depths I saw gathered, bound by love, the scattered leaves
of the universe—Yes, how my friend loved his Dante,
seeing the very origin of the creative act as a channel,


a gate, the necessary entry, and this contingent matter
the chrysalis, though still holy, the living immanence
knotted within the within of things, the soul at once


the point of transformation and the arrow that makes
its way. For human being is not center but last born,
the leading shoot, we thinking reeds who have crossed


the threshold of reflection, this knowing that we know
and so—his faith and mine—a prospect scandalous
to entropy, unscathed by the system that runs with it.


Though at Aix with Blondel, or in Paris with Le Roy,
or at Villers-sur-Mer where he found that ammonite
crusted with clay, one could not ignore the extinctions.


Have they not now discovered spiked clay in limestone
where St. Francis tamed Gubbio’s wolf with a word,
a fallen star’s cataclysm—asterisk above the manger—


only one of many turns where the universe commits
abortion upon itself? And could we not be the next,
having swept the planet clean of many lives, spurred


by our restlessness to outstrip the rest, while the lost
recede in the wake of our wake, born to rush us ahead
like imperiled amphibians alive also in their double lives?



Cardinal Merry del Val


“I resign myself to the activity of a microbe,” he said
with the silencing, the exile, one twenty-year stretch
in China tending his rocks, caches of bones and tools,


divagating across a lifetime of more tools, more bones,
the work a well-intended speculation, barely samizdat:
“I shall swallow the obstacle in the act of my obedience.”


One must credit his faith, but our Holy Father saw best:
“I know Teilhard is a great scientist, but no theologian
to resolve the problem of God. There is no problem.”


The crux? He presumes God a contingent cause, limited,
thus, by His own creation, evolving with it as it were,
and sin, from the first, little more than necessary flaw,


more animal than original—a belated Pellegian goad—
that heals sometime ahead with our long emergence,
and St. Paul’s Christ like a cosmic strange attractor


that draws unto itself, already holy, the whole universe.
Consider for sin and heresy, then, the milieu of a fig,
the Garden’s fatal fruit he believed an exemplary tale,


a figure for our fallible nature, transfigured over time—
Alpha lured by matter’s turns to hierophant Omega.
Inside the fig is an inner realm of hothouse blossoms,


the fig’s own world and telos, into which the fig wasp
crawls to lay its eggs, only enough so both might live,
lest the tree reject them. But the fig, the fig is not a fruit.



Marguerite-Marie “Guigite” de Chardin


When I read the draft of his Milieu I knew the mirror
of my life in his had found new life in it, that sickness
never comes to diminish, but quickens God’s own life


in us, us in God’s life. As he reflects, “Death’s the sum
of all our diminishments, though we overcome death
by finding God in it.” And so, it was for Alberic, Louise,


for Francoise, Gabriel, for us all, and my own affliction
a kind of brute spectacle that begets the inner flowering
that was my life at Sarcenat, as the Sacred Heart blazed


in the foyer, as it did when we were children, my body
bedridden thirty years, my life his dreamt Imitatio Cristi
while my dear brother crossed, crisscrossed continents


unerringly errant, arrow to my base on a compass rose.
As in de Hooch’s imagined Delft, two figures travel
in mirror passages, one away from, one into the light,


or like mirror particles, chiral, contrarily handed, light,
again, invariant until its symmetry shatters ahead, so it is
in this looking glass world of scattered entanglements.


When I died, it was as though he was looking at Earth
from an immense distance, blue atmosphere, the green
of vegetation, then ever-more luminous—thought itself,


then ever deeper: the darkness of suffering, growing
sharper with consciousness, the widening inflorescence.
And God gazing out, gazing in at the flung reflections.

Daniel Tobin is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry), The Net, and From Nothing, as well as the critical studies Passage to the Center and Awake in America: On Irish-American Poetry.  He is the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems of Lola RidgePoet’s Work, Poet’s Play and The Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge (Spring 2017). His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.