Poetry

Thou Who Art in Me

And fallen, fallen light renew!
William Blake

Thou, this humid cloak at dusk, a blue
Air flattened, smoldering the same
Field for years. Oh, Thou—this hardened name
For You not joyously sprung, not grown to grace
Out of me: how to instill a tint
Of silver out from ash, a trace
                               Out, out from my cramped cell.
Renew our life, oh Thou! Wake, rise and glint
In me like extended wings slick with dew.
Be the pulse driven from a broken shell.

Robert Manaster’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications. He lives in Champaign, Ill.

Image: Shell on the beach, Jerry Sharp / Shutterstock.com

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They Will Kill You

they will kill you
and say I’m sorry
and expect your mother to
forgive and forget
she ever gave birth to you
carried you in love for nine months
endured labor
and pushed you out with God’s might moving in her hips
ever fed you life from her bosom
or how you smelled like heaven after she washed you
that she ever watched you take your first steps
speak your first words
ever tucking you into bed with stories that rocked you to sleep
the many nights she prayed for your protection
or how excited she was the day you gave your first recital
that she ever taught you to be good and kind
ever beamed with pride
whenever you got an A on your test
that she ever wanted the best in this world for you

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Struggle of Faith

Early morning
before he unlocks the church gate
the rector kneels before
the gridiron fence surrounding the Cathedral,
not in prayer
but to collect empty wine bottles,
snack bags, and used condoms.

After shoving them into a bag
he turns the latch key and enters the churchyard
shutting it behind him.
The hollow, thunderous deadbolt
echoes through trees like the voices of
ancient saints.

The garden before him remains
a sunlit shrine
to the transfiguration of Christ,
and, when open to the public,
serves as a refuge for the homeless and despairing.

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Hell's Belly

Detail from "The Sea Stopped Raging," by Barry Moser, from Pennyroyal-Caxton Bible, 1999, used with permission.

From the midst of the nether
world I cried for help.
 —from the Book of Jonah

A gray whale blows off Cardiff Beach,
just beyond the glamour homes,
boutiques, and drive-thru windows,
valet service and all-u-can-eat sushi.
I want to swim out and be swallowed.

 
Jonah’s whale wasn’t Ahab’s, all
tripey white and peg-toothed, but
a strainer of phosphorescent shrimp,
which lamped the reeking gut, like
fireflies we swallowed once, in jars.


Even so, I say Moby gobbled Ahab,
steeped him in a pungent broth and
after 3 days spewed him bawling wet
onto the very beach where his
wife and boy kept a driftwood fire.


I hide in my own belly, treading a
sickly cocktail, on which float half-
eaten books, grocery lists, plastic bags,
dashboard figurines, and bugs like
butts in dregs of budget vodka.


No fireflies constellate these palms.
I fantasize a swarm, swallow it all,
that a spark might fall into my water.
I’d throw myself to the whale, to be
not digested, but gestated, then dis-


gorged, bleached and sucking light,
right here. I’ll scavenge bottles to hold
luminous soup I wring from my soul
and throw them to the waves for all
the other, countless, castaways.

 
Gene Fox studied philosophy and literature at James Madison University and served for 10 years as a librarian for the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. He now lives on the south coast of California.

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Illuminated

On my knees I beg forgiveness for my greed—
and for starving myself.
By your eyes I see you love this priest,
follow his lyrical fingers in praise of
a small white host he points here,
there.

I—on the other hand—directly deal
with that twisted god over his head.
That god and I promise
never to go hungry again. We promise
to eat lilies and drink summer storms,
feed all evening on maize races and amaranth,
fast only in winter, a diet of light.

Abruptly, the church
shuffles to its feet, illuminated. You reach aloft
for that elevated thin-edged redemption.
I reach, mi amada, for you.

Rose Marie Berger, a Catholic peace activist, is Sojourners magazine’s poetry editor.
 

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Infantry

Photo by Clay Patrick McBride

I

The crumpled woman pushes through the door
and sees your plump limp limbs

held tight in my buckled arms.

She remembers holding
such sweet eternity.

II

His temple:
life's bright beating softens here.

Some say it holds the place of time,

watch springs wrapped tight
under the bone.

III

Waking, he is held by his father,
whose arms have newly borne

weapons made

to breathe heavily
into our enemy chest.

Bree Devones Hsieh works with Servant Partners and lives in Pomona, California.

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Second Line


Blindfolded and gagged, tossed in the back
of a car—it's how they gather up young men
and after tire irons and chains, leave some

lying in the road like dirt, rained on all night.
Some are bundled-up, tossed off a bridge
into the river whose muddy swirls warn:

kick, fight, breathe, twist your arms free.
Some do. They rise, spit out the rags
stuffed in their mouths, limp back to town,

and one begins to sing—slow at first— Lord,
I want to be in that number
... Another moans
a low muted tone where words won't go.

And there's a bridge from verse to verse,
where bodies rise out of thicket and ditch,
out of jail cell, ravine and watery grave,

where gone, invisible hands seem to lift
like drum sticks, and soul sax blood brass
begin to flow, a band improvising

resurrection, until the dead
take to the streets, a spirit insurrection,
dripping river muck and frayed rope—

with crow-pecked eyes, burnt flesh, charred bone,
they rise, every flown soul finding its way
back through troubled air to swell that song.

Betsy Sholl, former poet laureate of Maine, lives in Portland. Her most recent poetry collection is Rough Cradle (Alice James Books).

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Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

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Dresden's Shrove Tuesday

Deep with one savior’s death, how many more?
In observance of which, the Dresden burghers
as usual held Shrove Tuesday circuses
around Our Lady’s Church, the Frauenkirche,
eating pancakes before their fast for Easter.

At midnight, Allies drew ash from their firestorm
on a hundred-thousand heads. Remember,
the Good War’s firesticks on Dresden’s timbers
in revenge for Coventry, where in embers
Ash Wednesday passion plays were once performed,

the old guilds raising monstrance of the Host
from their painted wagons. Remember Churchill
letting Germans bomb Coventry’s Cathedral
to protect the broken code, letting death fall
on leafy English streets like flash-bombed ghosts

in Dresden, Tokyo. Remember, we must
beg forgiveness like the medieval poor
for sin. How many miracles of war
must we work, burning flesh to spirit, before
remembering we are dust returned to dust.

Judith Werner lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York.

Image: Destroyed Coventry Cathedral, Lance Bellers / Shutterstock.com

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The Place of the Green Wand

A GiveBox in Berlin / Sally McGrane

Something called a GiveBox appeared
this fall on Falckensteinstrasse, and my first gift

was a memory: Dorothy Day, decades ago,
gently quoting St. Basil to me: If you have two coats,

you've stolen one from the poor.
Like a walk-in cupboard on the sidewalk, brightly

painted, decked out with flowers, this GiveBox
is for the anonymous exchange of gifts.

I brought books here and found a biography of Tolstoy,
who once made my teen-aged self dream of giving away

everything, and now, over a whiskey,
the idea returns: what if I stripped myself

of all but the necessary, left things off, day by day,
at the GiveBox? Of course, whatever his genius,

Tolstoy's life ended in confusion,
in quarrels, in flight—did he really think,

at 82, he could dispossess
himself and set off wandering? When his body

was brought home, it was buried
in the place of the green wand,

the glade where his twelve-year-old brother
once told a story about a stick hidden in the earth

that, if found, would bring lasting happiness to us all.
As though, having all but rejected his own novels,

he could dispense with everything
but story—Tolstoy wanted no tombstone,

no service, no clergy, and after all he had written
it was the legend his brother made up that he turned to.

A parable Dorothy Day, who lived to 83,
took seriously until the end.

I met her in my teens when she was in her 70s,
just out of jail after picketing for the rights

of migrants. Visiting a nephew who was dating my sister,
she joined us for dinner—someday, someone may ask me

the old question,If you could have a meal
with anyone, living or dead
… Going to a French restaurant

with Dorothy Day would be a good answer,
and I was lucky enough to actually do it,

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