I once spent a miserable winter in a magnificent house in Paris. Never are we more susceptible to the vagaries of fate than when we have convinced ourselves that there is such a thing. Fate, I mean. An explicit and exotic destination when I was nearly overcome with aimlessness, a rent-free house right next to the Luxembourg Gardens, four glorious months in which to write poems: What could go wrong?

Rats, for one thing, which seethed in the walls like something out of Céline. French, next, which simply would not condescend to exist on my Texas tongue and thus sealed me in a cone of loneliness and despair like . . . something out of Céline. And finally, futilely, there was poetry, which proved to be even more elusive than French.

Months passed. Or didn’t pass so much as freeze around me. It has been my experience that faith, like art, is most available when I cease to seek it, cease even to believe in it perhaps, if by belief one means that busy attentiveness—that purposeful modern consciousness—that knows its object.