During this pandemic, many people have probably tapped into spirituality, even if they aren’t religious. Since childhood, we’ve always been intrigued by the idea of guardian angels who walk with us and protect us when we need them. Now, we could sure use some angels, and it would be great if we were cognizant of them among us.
I first read Armed and Luminous by Richard Allen Taylor in 2017. Since then, I’ve come back to it when I’ve needed inspiration and humor in my life. This is the time for some diversion, and the need to believe that we aren’t alone. The book is thought-provoking.
Taylor’s book is a delight! The author’s poetry is accessible and engaging. He is imaginative, whimsical, and skilled. He combines insight with simple truth and wisdom, and has a rare facility with the English language to keep his readers entertained.
Armed and Luminous plays on the theme that we cross paths with angels who receive assignments from heaven. Also, we find that strangers we meet might be angels without us knowing it. Taylor’s angels can’t always achieve the desired effect. And, according to Taylor, not everyone becomes an angel when they die. His angels have human traits like feeling frustrated sometimes with their “jobs.”
In his poem, “My First Appointee,” Taylor visits his niece with her baby, Zack, whom she calls her “perfect angel,” despite his throwing tantrums. Taylor’s niece asks him if he believes in angels, and he offers his opinion of what heaven should be like:
If I were running Heaven, I’d have an angel/ for everything, not just for annunciations/ and deaths, but one for chance, one for maps, / one each for happiness, grief, melodrama, / procrastination. I’d have a management angel/ to do the hiring. Accounting angels to track expenses/ and pay the bills. At least one angel of technology.
And you, Zack buddy, you can be/
my first appointee. Angel of Tantrums.
In “Angel of Bureaucracy,” one of Taylor’s angels tells of angel recruitment and training:
Whoever said Heaven can wait misquoted me–
/the hours it takes to keep this place running, /
the pressure, the backlogged claims. The hordes/
of adjudicated souls presenting for indoctrination, /
unrelenting appeals from those tired of sitting/ around in ecstasy, applying for angel positions–/
at least they want to be useful. The needs are great. /
God wants to maintain a two-to-one ratio/
of angels to humans. And that’s just Earth./
What are the department heads in other galaxies/
In “It’s Tough Being an Angel,” we’re told about the characteristics of angels and more about their duties:
. . . Humans picture us with wings, / though we fly without them, faster than light./ We have been told to avoid stereotypes: no rings/ around our noggins, no harps, no white nighties/
. . .We help people see/ in all the ways humans can see. To look ahead, look behind, / foresee consequences, find solutions. We help them be/ the loaves that feed the multitudes, if they use their minds, /
One of my favorite poems in the book is “Angel of Chance on Special Assignment.” Here, one of Taylor’s angel “characters” poses as a mobster, coming to the aid of a cash-strapped man who needs to win a poker game, so his wife won’t leave him:
“So I’m sittin’ at a poker table in Atlantic City when/ my subject, a hippy-lookin’ guy plops down between/ me an’ Mr. Cowboy Hat an’ drops his two-bit/ pile of chips like he’s a high roller gonna break da bank/
. . .But hey,/ is it ever his lucky day, ‘cause the Boss mostly don’ care/ who wins or loses except this time He sends me here/ to take special care of this guy. Sumpin’ ‘bout the man’s/ unborn kid bein’ a genius an’ someday findin’/the cure for cancer. Only for this future, papa gotta win/ a few gees tonight else his wife bugs out/ an’ badda badda boom! No kid, no genius, no cure.
In “Angel of Retirement Savings,” an angel meets up with Hansel and Gretel in their old age, reduced to poverty:
. . . I find scraggly-bearded Hansel/ and gray-headed Gretel, faces smeared/ with the remains of ancient gingerbread, /dragging the body of the charred witch./
. . . Gretel drops her half of the witch, / sits on a fallen log, removes a stainless steel/ flask from her coat, and takes a long pull./ Gin? She offers. No thanks, I reply.
Besides humorous poems, there are serious poems that affect us. For example, the poem, “Where Were the Angels” questions why tragedies such as 9-11 happened, if there are angels who watch over us.
Taylor’s poetry appeals to our emotions and causes us to look deeper, contemplate God and creation, life, death, and human failures. Personally, I’ve always believed that heaven, (and hell), are constructs. Taylor’s book intrigues me, though, and gives me food for thought.
It’s interesting to note that Taylor wrote this book of 47 poems in fulfillment of his M.F.A. degree, spending substantial time researching biblical passages and folklore related to angels. The result of researching the Bible left him with fewer angel references than he’d thought he would discover, besides Michael and Gabriel. At the beginning of each of the book’s sections, he runs a short biblical citation about angels.
I highly recommend this book for poets and non-poets alike, and to gift to family and friends.
Armed and Luminous by Richard Allen Taylor
Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte, NC
Copyright 2020 by Charlotte Digregorio.