Poetry

Golgotha

Very soon now the light shall die.

The Great World will be rent—

ashes, sobbing seraphim, calves

born with crabbed feet. Rain

then the absence of rain.

Wild thunder pounds in my head.

And where is the betrayer tonight?

Drunk and puking.

Sprawled across the cold stones

in some rich man’s courtyard.

Even Simon Peter has fled, while we

who have held the hands of lepers,

the women no one dares call disciples, remain

to watch midnight eat up the earth.

 

DALE M. KUSHNER’s collection of poems, Another Kingdom, was published in the former Yugoslavia where she was a visiting writer.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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The Intercessor

 

I have been in the House of Yahweh.

There I pummeled heaven

with the iron blows

of my prayers—

the raging two-fisted madness of Jacob.

There I seized my soul-fever with bare hands

and hurled it back blazing

upon the lap of Consuming Fire.

 

I have been in the Temple of the God of Hosts.

There I howled my primal howl,

howling as a beast howls

until my cry scraped like brick against brick.

There I gathered the boiling rivers

of my spirit and spewed them

like a torrent

toward the Voice of Many Waters.

 

I have been in the Presence of the Most High.

There I pressed my body

against the weight of the whole earth,

lunging again and again

against its ancient, fallen orbit.

There I shook the Seraphim.

There I wrestled Leviathan.

There I shifted the destiny of the universe.

 

FREDERICK LEWIS ALLEN is a former pastor and college teacher. He lives with his wife and four small children in Salem, Oregon.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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Letter to Tremblay About Death

Dear Gail: Each day I pray the muses
will bring me tasty nouns and surprising verbs,
but pain and death keep dancing through
my dreams wearing garments of grief.
My spirit is turning to ashes, yet there is no fire.
A Buddhist monk told me I could get rid
of this bereavement by gathering tea leaves
from those who’ve lost no one to death.
He promised that as I sipped the tea, sorrow
would slip away like a snowflake falling
on a child’s tongue. It was a good lesson.
Each home I visited told me how death
had come calling into their lives, how the living
carry their dead like roses against a black sky,
how the wages of tears must fill our cups
before any tea can boil or brew. I know
you can loan me none of this tea and that’s
not why I’ve written today. I write to tell you
that the poems about your own dead
have become, strangely, a source of light.

 

FREDRICK ZYDEK lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and is the author of The Abbey Poems (1994) and Ending the Fast (1984), as well as other books. He recently exchanged his cast-iron Remington typewriter for life online.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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Carol of Brother Ass

In the barnyard of my bone
Let the animals kneel down—
Neither ecstasy nor anger,
Wrath nor mildness need hide longer,
On the branching veins together
Dove may sing with hawk her brother.

Let the river of my blood
Turned by star to golden flood
Be the wholesome radiance
Where the subtle fish may dance,
Where the only bait to bite
Dangles from the lures of light.

Let the deep angelic strain
Pierce the hollows of my brain;
Struck for want of better bell,
Every nerve grows musical;
Make my thews and sinews hum
And my tautened skin a drum.

 

Bend, astonished, haughty head
Ringing with the shepherds’ tread;
Heart, suspended, rib to rib,
Rock the Christ Child in your crib,
Till so hidden, Love afresh
Lovely walks the world in flesh.

VASSAR MILLER, the author of eight volumes of poetry, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was twice poet laureate of Texas. Disabled by cerebral palsy since birth, Miller was editor of Despite This Flesh, an anthology of poetry and stories about the disabled. She died in 1998 at age 74. This poem is reprinted from If I Had Wheels or Love: Collected Poems of Vassar Miller with permission of Southern Methodist University Press.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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At Thanksgiving

A poem for my grandfather.

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Last Visit

Like your poems

the high front yard

faces a lake’s inlet.

Purple, pink, orange and yellow

day lilies

punctuate steep

steps to your front door

where lamb’s ear,

allium, ivy and clematis

cover the earth

beneath fig and pear.

Cloistered with fuschia,

fern, spirea and impatiens,

you scan the flowers

talk of saint Romero,

how he died preaching

grammar of justice,

syntax of mutual aid.

At table we share

livetta bread, peaches, cherries and

a view of clouds

you say is

Mt. Rainier

real as the line we had to

break

at Nevada’s nuclear site

to restructure

the sentence our lives are making.

Now I see your obituary,

your death

covered with words

I wish were

your new poem,

another glimpse of

the unseen:

an energy field

more intense than war.

MURRAY BODO is a Franciscan friar, author, and writer in residence at Thomas More College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Phrases in italics are from Denise Levertov’s poem "Making Peace." The online version does not represent the poet's original layout.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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Fat God/Thin God

Fat God

How can you mean to satisfy us by hurling down your bait—

love writhing on a hook and snagged in our guts—

while you, enthroned on the praises of your people

still sit, obese with the answers we still crave?

 

Thin God

Surely you must be thin by now, old fisherman,

dragging your hook through the centuries,

casting for us with every morsel of yourself,

luring emaciated us with a bait fish more succulent

than we have dreamed ourselves to be.

 

KEVINHADDUCK is the director of the Center for Academic Development at McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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Exodus

I praise an ordinary woman,
greyblonde and stocky, nearing
forty, who stood as part of
a snarling crowd outside
Central High School in Little Rock
on September fifth, 1957.

She watched as eight
black teenagers (all chosen
for excellent grades)
got out of a Chevy wagon.
She watched them approach
the ring of Guardsmen
ordered to turn them away, saw
the crewcuts, the loose slung rifles
the fingers more used to basketballs
drumming on billy sticks.

When the eight faltered
and finally turned back
she might have helped scream them away.

And then she saw the latecomer ninth
walk into the spit of Nigger go home—
a girl named Elizabeth Eckford
in crinolines and a pressed white blouse
fifteen, too shy to bolt
the only black person in sight.

And suddenly this unknown
woman, her face ambushed by pity,
stepped out from the mob
and touched Elizabeth Eckford's shoulder.

Made of herself a shield and wedge,
shamed her own to give way
and brought the girl out, through the bitter swell
roaring and closing
behind them.

JUDITH YARNALL teaches writing and literature at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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Poem In Which I Accept That Absences Are Not Absences

I accept the cardinal that comes to the tree
in bright red robes, priest of the backyard,
flickering beauty;
even empty branches hold its scarlet.

I accept a man I will never touch
only slight brush of lips
like the taste of fragrant spruce
as I walk to the mountain.

I accept the way God pours love into me,
forgotten presence,
as though lamp were to forget light,
fire forget flame.

MARGARET C. SZUMOWSKI served for several years with the Peace Corps in Zaire and Ethiopia. She now teaches English at Springfield Technical Community College in West Springfield, Massachusetts.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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Nativity Scene

Carver at market speaks to a tourist
Luanda, Angola

It is not so easy, sir, as that.
As a carver I can attest
it is not so simple as you say.
A few figures from wood,
a camel or two for your American children
to place here and there,
to make hop across the floor, take time
and the attention one might pay
over many days
to a complicated dream.

Take for example, Mary.
She must reveal herself in the wood
wearing an expression
between startle and complete surprise.
After all, she is still a child herself
and no one told her, not her mother,
not her friend Elizabeth-
you see what I am saying-
no one could have warned her
it would come to this.

And Joseph
will not appear old
as the other carvers portray him.
When we say "Mary" and "Joseph"
we speak of youth
and the way the young
look out from the eyes
only so far, perhaps this far-
as my arm can reach-no farther.
I must bring the eyes into shortened vision.

Still there is a problem in Joseph.
The dream with its horrendous threads
he wears like a cloak,
and so stands prepared to scoop up the baby
like this-grasp Mary
by the arm like this-and flee.
Already Herod's men
have scattered over the countryside
and will slash the throats of young boys
as if they were goats at market.

And Emmanuel, the child,
is not content with birth.
The eyes squeeze shut
because it is painful to see,
the little hands fist tight in desperate flail,
so fearsome is the freedom of birth.
And if the milk of his mother
does not descend in a little time
he will learn the slow murder
of hunger.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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