reviewed by Marjorie Maddox
Both affirming and unsettling, David Craig’s Pilgrim’s Gait walks us sometimes stub-toed, sometimes limping, sometimes leaping for joy across continents and centuries in this pilgrimage of poetry and prose.
In the first section, “Pilgrim’s Places,” we find ourselves with the poet and his family journeying through Europe and the United States. At Garabandal, Craig exclaims, “It was labor intensive, / this waiting for God!” (2) and even more so as the family— including a three-year-old with Downs’ chiming in with comedic alleluia’s—find they are waiting during the “wrong year” for healing. Throughout, such amusing and somber missteps eventually make for sure footing as the narrator approaches sites of “fake apparitions” (9), churches “decrepit enough to convince anyone / that what mattered most wasn’t there” (5), “God dancing, as He always does, / in feathers, in the past” (8), and—most importantly—the realization “what could any of us, finally, have traded / for what we’d been given” (4)?
The book’s second section—partly fictionalized, autobiographical prose entitled “The Madonna’s House”—chronicles the narrator’s attempt, at 24, to find his spiritual way. Arriving without even a winter coat and little notion of what to expect, the speaker battles cultural and personality differences at a Catholic farming commune in Moose Jaw, Ontario, where he finds himself “dumbfounded by what [he] could only call the devotion of all these normal-looking people” (28). Both funny and gut-wrenchingly honest, the account is a roller coaster of sarcasm, doubt, yearning, loneliness, and humility. Asked at one point about the state of his soul, he is unsure even if he has one. And yet throughout the days of chopping wood, peeling vegetables, ridiculing ritual, and “giving up Lent for Lent” (45), the narrator and his fellow searchers move closer to understanding God and each other. “How,” they are asked, “can we immerse ourselves in prayer, become prayer” (55)? After much struggle, the speaker does experience dramatic conversion—“effusive fountains of water, of Light, great handfuls of pearled praise gushing from within” (60)—yet also admits, “I wanted badly to change for the good, but would have had to become something else to do it….Only God could do that, probably taking a lifetime in the process” (76).
The book’s final two sections—“Forming St. Anthony” and “The Beat Catholic Line”—echo and expand on such Catholic devotion and “taking a lifetime in the process.” In the former, Craig poetically examines the history, travels, miracles, and devotion of St. Anthony: “These were the days scripture writes on the soul…the everything that comes after” (88).
In the last section, the author recounts a life sometimes turbulent and often epiphanic. After echoing Kerouac, Dylan, Berrigan, Springsteen, and others, Craig calls out, “Come, like new, Lord: / Your laughter over the Pacific, / Your gaze above the burning sea” (120). Pilgrim’s Gait is not a spiritual journey for the fainthearted; it is, however, one for both the faithless and faithful. And thank God for that.
Sage Graduate Fellow of Cornell University (MFA) and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, MARJORIE MADDOX has published eleven collections of poetry—including True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series); Local News from Someplace Else (Wipf and Stock); Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, (Yellowglen Prize); and Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the short story collection What She Was Saying (2017 Fomite), and over 450 stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. Co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (Penn State Press), she also has published two children’s books with several forthcoming. For more information, please see www.marjoriemaddox.com