Several of the issues involved in living according to Christian principles surface as Mariani recounts youthful episodes that weakened his self-respect and religious faith. In “Manhattan,” participating in a drinking bout the night before an ethics test causes the poet to feel ashamed and fearful. A drunken and violent hazing ritual leaves him dissatisfied with the “Brotherhood” he had hoped for in a fraternity. In “Quid Pro Quo,” Mariani suffers a heartbreaking setback caused by his wife’s second miscarriage. He is shocked at the depth of his anger at God’s treatment of human beings, but his outrage dissolves when his wife carries their firstborn to term. As an adult, this son becomes a priest, leaving Mariani in awe of a God who appears to have arranged the whole affair quid pro quo—a more-or-less equal exchange of divine proportions.
Two poems that treat the subject of romance, “Music of Desire” and “Then,” reveal the efficacy of faith in God. In the first poem, a young Mariani, working in a local grocery store, describes his disappointment at the loss of a girlfriend. He recalls thinking that his sorrow, when viewed in a greater context, is as commonplace as the act of consecration. In “Then,” he meets the woman who will become his wife and wonders how such a gift can have materialized. In characteristic style, the poet compares the gift of love to the gift of life, the June blossoming of a catalpa tree, “white/ on white on white, flaring,” leading to a miraculous vision as “the very air around is turned to whiteness.” In this manner, the divine light that is intermittently revealed in The Great Wheel reflects the fulfilment of faith.