Poetry

mitzvah

the young rabbi, earnest and intense,
forgot to read your requested scripture passage
then, a shovel had to be asked for,
so each of us could cover you
with three mounds of warm earth
your daughter fussed a little but later went for shiva at the house
the sermon was almost too simple:
the greatest good deed is to bury the dead
for they cannot thank you
with these words, like grace before a meal
I was taught what I thought I knew—
invite those who are blind, the lame ...
and, in so doing,
you will discover worship at your table
when you welcome as a guest the throwaways of this world

Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS, is a spiritual director in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Image: bread on the ground, murengstockphoto / Shutterstock

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A Million Prayers

The first time we visited my sister in her monastery
Was just after one of our sons had survived massive
Surgeries, before and during which all the monks &
Nuns in the monastery, not to mention thousands of
Other generous souls, had prayed constantly for him
And it turned out that they had gone over the million
Prayer mark for our son, which, according to the law
Of the monastery, gave him lifetime privileges. He’s
No dolt, this kid, and he took off running, to hammer
On drums, and eat the cookies on an altar, and pursue
The grim local peacocks, who were deeply aggrieved.
By the time we retrieved him he was worn and happy
And the peacocks were huddled bitterly in the maples.
Even now I sometimes wonder if he will end up there
In his golden years, maybe retiring there at age ninety
And serving as the soul who calls everyone to prayer;
He did exactly that when he was a small boy, after all.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland (Oregon) and the author most recently of The Thorny Grace of It, a collection of spiritual essays.

Image: peacock feather, Roxana Gonzalez / Shutterstock

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Hora Tertia

On the monastery walk,
in the clear daylight after
the night of heavy rain,

I consider the moonflower:
how the big spent blooms look like
three linen tea towels rinsed and wrung out,
three yellowed towels someone meant to
pin to the line to dry.

And I consider the very air:
how yesterday’s weather seems back there
in memory, but is still out there,
a heft of warmth east of here by now,
off the continent, rolling in enormous
clouds above the Atlantic.

And I consider this waning moon:
how thin it seems this morning against
the washed blue sky, like an old pearl button,
chipped, worn smooth, but still securely fixed
behind those sheer clouds blown by weather—
though I know that it, too, is moved
and beloved.

Madeleine Mysko, a novelist and poet, is an ordained elder at Towson Presbyterian Church in Maryland.

Image: moonflower bush, Ricardo Reitmeyer / Shutterstock

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Chiaroscuro

"Elevation of the Cross," by Peter Paul Rubens

The back-lit morning wave
Clarified emerald suddenly in olive,
Then gone; forever the cry of the Christ's torso
In Rubens' "Elevation of the Cross";
A glass pepper shaker filled to overflowing
By a finger of fallen sun at the close
Of a most mundane afternoon.
Obsessed is perhaps too strong a wod

But I seek the image of emergent light
In everything, as if a life's a collection
Of a thousand thousand such events
Becomes, finally, and somehow,
Through the slippery spirit's incomprehensible means,
A perfect surrender. The desert hermit Antony
Is said to have needed no lamp
To read scripture in his cell at night, so bright
Was the manifest glow of his abandon.

Samuel Harrison, a novelist and poet, coordinates an arts ministry at St. James Episcopal Church in Ormond Beach, Fla.

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Easter with Czeslaw Milosz: Cento

From white villages Easter bells resound.
Rejoice! Give thanks! I raise my voice
Evil disappears from the world.
And that means somewhere God must be.
So that for a short moment there is no death.
If only everything kept happening in such a way
And a garden of forgiveness gathered all of us
Who doubted the goodness of Creation.

Kathleen Gunton is a poet, fiction writer, and photographer in Orange, Calif. This cento is composed of lines from Czeslaw Milosz’ New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001.

Image: Church bells, Alan Bailey / Shutterstock.com 

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The Blades of Grass in the Garden of Gethsemane Speak to Me

Yes, his blood was on us once,
making us famous blades within the blades
community. I mean, many of us
had taken blood and sweat before
from lions and dogs and even fallen birds
or lovers and killers and the killed
but this was the first time we took both
at the same time, from the same creature.

You humans have that saying,
Blood, sweat, and tears. By this you signify work.
Consider the lilies of the field, he said
of our cousins. They neither work nor spin
but I tell you that not even Solomon
in all his glory was clothed like them.

Yes, we’re a humbler variety of plant
but news of him comes every time you all do,
which is often now. There are tour guides who speak
all the human tongues, and we are trampled
for being famous blades
but then are resurrected.

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The Peacemakers

Chiamaka tells of women who plant seeds
of peace in tribal towns, pot-banging with spoons
to call men off their game of raid-and-rape.

A girl named Hope intercepts the hands
of crowing children trading blows
and coaxes them to shake their hands

although her own are quaking. At school
my shy daughter stuffs notes in friends’ lockers,
imploring playground harmony.

In town there are the vocal ones who yield the floor
and quiet ones now brave enough to vote
against their own friends for a just cause.

Anyone will bless those who fear no fire,
stout souls no bomb can keep away
from those who need a sip, a hand, an ear,

but can’t we also bless survivors whose hearts
and skin are plucked or peeled to give to someone else
whose family awaits some news in silent burning?

Can’t we bless the time-gnarled knuckles
of hands that knead and lead and wring and hammer
and hold and pause and praise?

Sometimes even we—
pierced with arrow-words, with brassy
cacophonies of slurs—stand in calm.

We watch. Although we fibrillate with doubt, still
we bless the one who stands before the rolling tank
and all the world’s dark eyes that gather light.

Kathleen McCoy, a creative writing teacher at SUNY Adirondack, lives in Queensbury, N.Y. She’s actively involved with Split This Rock and with 100 Thousand Poets for Change.

Image: Soldier show in Children's Day, Trakan / Shutterstock.com 

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Uncontained

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Shepherds

Night.
The sheep huddled against this big rock.
Jake keeps watch while I wrestle with sleep:
—wool prices down, third year
—owner talks of selling out
—Jake and me—Where do we go?
—Martha’s carrying our fifth child
—rumors that Herod’s at it again,
—this time killing babies.
—Same old story:
the Empire trades in fear.
Where can we run?
Like papa says, “I hate being poor.”

 

Pitch black.
Then a light out of the sky.
Am I asleep already?
I hear voices.
A rumor, they say:
             A refugee couple living in a box
                            in Bethlehem.
             Had a baby. Screaming. Cold. Hungry.
The voices are singing,
             “All will be well,"
              All will be well.”
Like papa says, “Dreaming is the only
             hope poor folks have.”

Harry C. Kiely, co-author of One Nation, Many Gods, is a retired United Methodist clergy living in Silver Spring, Md.    

Image: Sheep in the early morning light in the Dutch heath, Fotografiecor.nl / Shutterstock.com

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The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Image by K. J. Snoes

The clouds, pregnant with rain. No light
but an inkling of light. If Advent is a time

of waiting, of joyful anticipation, why are we
so often troubled? Consider Mary, the unknown

future she holds. Or Amy, staying the day
with D—, expecting in January, alone and now

spotting with unexpected blood, baby not yet
ready. What was our life before children? Years

of memories now include the children—as if they
already were born, only we could not see them.

Mary was “greatly troubled.” What burden of light
do we bear? Something in us and not us,

in which we see ourselves and those we love,
and something else, beyond all naming?

Philip Metres’ most recent collections of poems are A Concordance of Leaves and abu ghraib arias. He teaches at John Carroll University near Cleveland.

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