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Parley of Instruments: A Tale

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“I’m feeling off, and achy,” complains the watch as his band stretches around the boy’s hand.  “I’ve been reset so often my knob’s worn down.”

“My time is right,” the clock on the stove calls out.

“So is mine,” the clock on the radio mutters.

“B-bong, b-bong,” the windup clock on the wall begins to chime the hour.

“You’re two minutes early,” stove clock declares.

“Close enough.  I don’t run on current like you.”

“At least we agree,” stove clock assures radio clock.

“Of course!  We run on the same power!”

“You’re grumpy this morning, radio clock,” wall clock says.

“Stove clock’s acting like she’s in charge – again.”

The boy looks at his watch, which is running five minutes slow.  “I’ve still got five minutes,” he says to himself.

“You’re reading the wrong timepiece!” the others cry together, but to the boy they are as silent as the lights flashing at the school crossing, where five minutes is enough to mark him tardy.

“He didn’t look at any of us,” stove clock sighs as the door closes.

 

This little story was a side trip in my journey with William Paley’s Natural Theology.  The image of the watch which opens Paley’s argument is so strong that it took me a while to realize that Paley is not really interested in what watches do, that is, tell time.  He is interested in the watch as a mechanism which must have had a designer.  It is a parallel to the eye, ear, and all the other parts of the body which, it is his project to demonstrate, must have been designed.  Paley’s world view is a topic for another time,. as is our contemporary bondage to clocks and the minutes they represent.

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Introducing My Current Obsession

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“Obsession,” one of my poems in Ascent (see Books page) begins:

I’m fixed on this book
like a three-year-old on trucks,
a five-year-old on dinosaurs.  You could
make it my motif, were I young
enough for birthday parties.

The book I refer to is William Paley’s <i>Natural Theology</i>, published in 1802.  This book from a long past era presents nature, particularly the human body, as evidence not merely that there is a God but that this God is wise and good.   The eye, the ear, the joints: each is a sufficient example, in design and practicality, of the skill of the Maker.  While I soon recognized that Paley’s world view was one of fixed order, incompatible with my awareness of evolution and change, his delight in all levels of creation was contagious.

The watch with which Paley begins his discussion is a controlling metaphor: as a watch must have had a maker, so the forms of nature must have been designed.  Paley is drawn to and impressed by all manner of mechanics, of which the watch is just one example.  He equally admires mills, telescopes, the new iron bridge he sees over the Wear River, and other human inventions, especially those in which he finds a parallel to some natural form.

Having spent two years in this man’s company (the man is actually hidden behind the book, but I have come to talk as if this is as a personal acquaintance) I am now in the process of sorting and sifting the pieces that came out of this “time together” to create a book―my book in response to his book.

I have decided that obsession is a good thing for a writer.  Perhaps it is even a necessary thing in the development of one’s art.