Wanderings in Place
Poems that take us back to a vanishing America.
[To order a copy of Mike Finch's Wanderings in Place, CLICK HERE.]
Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
“Nostalgia,” writes scholar Tony Esolen, is not mere “misty-eyed adulation of an imagined time that never existed,” nor “reactionary sentimentalism.” It is “the ache to turn back home,” a mirror of the soul’s yearning for our eternal home, heaven. It is the longing to break free of our postmodern alienation and set our steps back on the journey to meaning and belonging. And it is the theme that courses through Wanderings in Place, the latest collection of poetry from David Horowitz Freedom Center president Michael Finch.
I reviewed Finding Home, Finch’s first collection of poems, for FrontPage Mag here in 2015. Like that book, Wanderings in Place is a very personal volume, with poems anchored in Finch’s vivid memories of loves and landscapes and longing. But when art is personal and true and heartfelt, it rises above the personal and resonates with our common humanity, and that is the case here. Also like Finding Home, the new book has a very American character, grounded as it is in our unique spirit of freedom and in
the lands, forests, fields, rivers,
from Great Lakes to widening expanse, a land blessed
of waves of amber grain and purple hues, rising up
against the great Rockies across desert to the mighty sea.
“I have spent my life searching for America,” Finch wrote in the introduction to Finding Home, “for what we have lost. And always searching for home. We are a rootless people, a rootless nation, it is a great strength as we always strive and push out and go beyond all limits. But who can deny the void that it leaves?” In more than three dozen short poems in his new book, Finch helps lead us out of that void into the welcoming panoramas of an American home we are in danger of losing.
What is it we are losing, exactly, and why? In poems with titles such as “American Man in Final,” “Thoughts of Freedom Dying,” “Oh, America,” and “Statues Fall,” Finch laments:
our freedom, our strength, our land our culture
faded into memory, traveled faraway, gone forever.
This moment of a nation, a people who lived free,
lived in liberty so unique, so true, so brief.
Praise be to God for all of it – even if fleeting, fading, and gone.
It was, in our time, glorious.
He lays the blame for our decline on the false “love of our own created gods” and our failure to stand firm against an internal enemy:
We didn’t hold fast, lost faith, and now,
slipped and vanishing before our eyes,
in a generation’s blink taken, given, freedom
whisking past like whispers of ghosts.
A progressive rise, revolt of elites, opened borders
sovereignty spent, all for profit and power, and nothing left.
Land of gutted factories, torn families, wasted lives
shattered dreams, vacant, blown-through memories.
Not only America is fading, but our broader civilization as well. In “The Last of the West,” Finch mourns Christendom’s decline in the face of a surging “beast from Hades itself, the Saracen, / from the blood-red desert of a fire from the belly,” which “burns our holy cities and faithful to the ground.” He asks, “Has it come to this, the end? / The last fade of the westward sun sets, the era of kings and Christ falls.”
Finch isn’t without hope or fighting spirit, however. In “To the White City,” he calls for the glorious city now known as Istanbul, “a city from the ancients, glory of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem / All awoken in one, one soaring, climbing, great rise of faith,” a city “bequeathed by Constantine for our Lord,” to emerge as a symbol of Christian preeminence once again amid the “desert vastness East”:
Awaken! Constantinople, ascend from our dreams and take your place.
Take us home to the Lord’s embrace on this heavenly day.
Similarly, in “Statues Fall” he stands against the historical revisionism of anti-American radicals here at home obsessed, like ISIS, with destroying the monuments of our past:
Blessed by our troubled and glorious history.
Cherish American heroes through time, flawed and all.
Don’t heed these tales of America’s misery.
Stand tall, show courage, and hear our founders’ call.
But ultimately, Finch knows that peace and rest can be found only in our true home. In “A Letter to God,” he writes,
It can’t come here in this place,
among men, not in this world,
but only by the beauty of your grace…
“The seeker that you made in all of us,” he continues, yearns for final transcendence:
I close my eyes and dream of a path
through golden fields, running streams
dripping sunlight into diamond falls glitter
cool breezes down mountain slopes fall,
from tree-lined high above, above the tallest peak,
the moon’s crest and early starlight fall
into endless space and fold into welcoming arms.
Home to you I seek, and to this path I strive,
stay true to you, I plead.
Lovelorn poems like “A Summer Afternoon,” “A Love For the Heavens,” “Of Wanting,” and “A Love Letter,” as well as poems like “Alongside the River,” “All Folds Inward,” and “Off Tomah Way” celebrating grand American vistas, round out this collection by a man fast becoming the preeminent contemporary poet of the American heartland:
Gentle rolling farms, an easy land,
beautiful, bountiful as any on earth.
Cared for and protected by families
for generations on down.
Hearths and homesteads, small, tucked, tight;
valleys, fence rows, backroads roll on.
The late, great philosopher Roger Scruton argued that beauty is a path that leads us home. Michael Finch’s Wanderings in Place and his earlier work Finding Home take us there. His themes and imagery, his humility and sense of wonder, his appreciation of a natural order infused with the supernatural, speak to and give voice to all those Americans who yearn for beauty in our era of ugliness, and who yearn for home in an alienated world.