Poetry

When You Are a Child

You wait a long time for Christmas morning
drifting asleep even as the ebony slate of sky
shatters in clarion silence
Glory, Hallelujah!
and shepherds in the hills cast down their rods
look up at angels and find themselves
no longer huddled in darkness
but lucent between the stars.

You, no longer a child but still drifting,
enter the mystery that is darkness
willing to open the gift inside your own singing
recognizing the song of songs from the first Eve—

     We all live for the Light
           that the lowly born, a glimmer, leads
the way

and you wake up, still in the dark
but watchful    and ready now.

 

Sandra M. Tully is a Wisconsin poet, educator, and community spiritual leader.

Image: Burning candles, Elena Itsenko / Shutterstock.com

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Nineveh

He uproots teeth primordial in nature and that eat his soul
with appetite the size of mercenary forces plundering a city

whose inhabitants do not fight back because most of them
are women, children, and animals that creep on all fours.

He knows of a city not spared and is without name, unlike Nineveh,
whose repentant king decreed:

Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth,
and they shall cry mightily to God.

He thinks of what to do but knows that he is not the prophet
Jonah and therefore lives a life absent of divine interventions.

Yet he wallows like Jonah when swallowed by the whale of life.

A city stands in the far regions of his soul, beckoning the presence
of creatures clothed with sackcloth.

Elvis O. Alves, a hospital chaplain, teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Image: New York City skyline, santi_madrid / Shutterstock.com

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Reading Ayn Rand at the Hospital

About love she was all wrong,
the old capitalist, patron saint
of the self-made rich. How well
she misunderstood the paradox deep
as mothers’ grief: that finding our self
requires losing it, that love and loss
make one truth, not two. Objective
as granite in relationships, her hero
never collapses into cancer with a wife,
never drops into death with a brother.
No, Howard Roark, fountainhead
among architects, never really suffers
because he never truly loves. He relates
in a Randian arithmetic of negation:
one self living for another self equals
no self. Devoted to one ego alone, his
will is rigid as the steel girders he
sketches across the vast unknown. I
turn another tedious page, count
what’s left to read, then gaze
out the window to worry
what my wife’s biopsy will mean.
Beside me since sunrise, our daughter Mary
sets aside a limp issue of People,
ruffles my hair, then pours me coffee,
strong, steaming—just as John Donne
in slippers hustles his IV pole
down the corridor, his free hand clutching
the breezy back of a worn hospital gown. He
hurries to our chairs, bows to Mary
with metaphysical flourish, then whispers
through a painful grimace to me,
“Look, son: for your wife’s sake
lose that damned book!” Ducking
behind a lush fern to avoid his nurse,
the ailing Dean of Meditation 17
grabs my sagging shoulders, leans
in that long English face to declare,
“Now listen, you: Ayn Rand’s all wrong.
Got that? No man’s an island. Period.
And you can take that to the bloody bank.”

Mark Hiskes teaches English at Holland Christian High School in Holland, Michigan.

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'The Hungry Soul in Pursuit of the Full Soul'

‘The Hungry Soul in Pursuit of the Full Soul’
On Proverbs 8

My saints won’t be named by a church.
Their sainthood won’t stand as statues. Listen.
Voices
calm as cooking directions
play continually—

If any thing’s resurrectible, it’s memory:
those eyes,
song-haloed, so full of lightness
nothing could stop their flight;
not a Thomas who peers into pupils’ darkness,

not a ravenous soul left grounded.
We are born, yin-yanged, of lightning
with saints and putti the lightest of all.
But love-rumpled faces, quick limbs, and pierced hearts
are unstable, done only in clay.

If Wisdom, God’s darling, still lifts voice to play
on this earth, and if (how could it be?)
she delights in mankind, may hunger hollow
this body to nothing but ear—which, night or day,
hears continually—

Muriel Nelson, author of Part Song and Most Wanted, lives near Seattle.

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Witness

There is nothing casual
about casualties of war.

It is serious business deciding
which of the wounded
get Medevac’d or left behind
on the battlefield.

It is not the ones
with the most severe of injuries
who are transported
elsewhere for treatment

but the ones with the best
chance of surviving them
that make the trip.

“There’s nothing we can do.”

Try telling this
to a fellow soldier
about their buddy in arms
whose last letter they have
safely tucked away

just in case.

Try telling their mother, father;
sister, brother; son, daughter;
or spouse

that someone else’s mother,
father, sister, brother, son, daughter
or spouse

was picked instead.

No one envies the Medic
who must make this choice.

But sometimes even the chosen
don’t survive their journey home.

Maritza Rivera, a Puerto Rican poet living in Maryland, is author of A Mother’s War, written during her son’s two military tours in Iraq.

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The Sacred Fish

You can’t desire to catch the sacred fish
as much as he desires to be caught
& yet
he darts through the dim depths
with tail swerve & swish
laughs with the joy of glistening fins
at huge holes in your net
through which he swims

To get the shining coin from his mouth
is worth selling all you have
To get him         even better
Everything you know about him
wavers in uneven light

Just below the surface
so it’s barely wet
you let down your net
as he dives to the bottom
You seek the depths
as he leaps through waves
You search the shallows
as he heads for open water
& your tattered nets come up empty

If you let him
he’ll repair them himself
trim knotted clumps     & untie tangles
Selecting the right fibers
he’ll tear & twist
the sinews of your heart into fine mesh
stretch them as thin as a pin
as wide as your whole being
a needle-shimmer piercing your soul

Better is one day in his boats
than thousands elsewhere

D.S. Martin, a Canadian poet living in Ontario, is author of Poiema and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed.

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The Five Stages of Grief

Denial
This has nothing to do with blackness.
This has everything to do with blackness.

Anger
I could break things
but everything is broken.

Bargaining
Maybe I should have left
with the slave catchers.

Depression
I will die in this same skin
that I’m living in.

Acceptance
Cotton never left the plantation
only my mind did.

E. Ethelbert Miller is editor of Poet Lore magazine, director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University, and author of, most recently, The Fifth Inning.

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Trading

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
                                                                —Wordsworth              

      Okay, for now, I give up business
to search for the private life of daffodils,
             tracking spring, longing to sink
into some sweet bull’s-eye
            of stillness. Beside the Schuylkill River
      iris fly in place, their frilly lips
            trembly, almost obscene.
I take off my shoes and wade,
      first one foot, then the other
             where the river bares its white teeth
in anger, biting the rocks. I think
             of turning into a tree, but instead
                            I pretend to be a heron, trying
for such beatitude and stealth
            that I might show the river
                            how to clear up its old
misunderstanding with itself, how to
        be one thing. Sometimes it’s possible
             to see God standing on the bank,
       one hand keeping the world’s atoms
             from flying apart, the other shading
                            his black eyes, gazing around in love
at his creation. I settle back
                            into my own shape.
The river quiets down. Dark’s rising,
     stars just coming out
             against a navy sky. It’s like seeing fire
      through a colander of darkness,
piercings in the lovely screen of night.


Jeanne Murray Walker, poet, playwright, and teacher, lives outside Philadelphia. Her collection New and Selected Poems will be published in 2012.

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Against the Night

We are the lay of the land—
pocked, hilled, knowing every ember
and seed imprinted on our bones.

Alone and together we, all paling petitions,
move forward on the ash road
hungering to be reawakened

By some whisper
spoken in a mother tongue
we think we used to know.

In the end there is the keeping on
toward hosannahs not yet shouted
up against the night.

Belle Fox-Martin is a United Church of Christ licensed minister in western Massachusetts.

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Words

While he was in jail, two policemen
came to his apartment, took
all his books, sat at his kitchen table
drinking his coffee, and cut out
the forbidden words: kitchen
was first to go; kiss, kissing, lemon.
They were on a roll. Library went,
then lips. His wife looked on
in silence, her arms crossed. So they
cut out silence. They backtracked
to arms, breast, breasts, chest.

The floor was overflowing with tiny
snowflakes engraved with bed, door
dancing, running, open. They were
on fire, cutting whole phrases:
Tomato soup is not merely physical
—from an essay on poetry.
From Spinoza’s Ethics:
All things excellent are difficult
and rare. When they finished
they collected their snowflakes,
and his wife re-shelved the books.

Later they released him, and he ran home.
Dancing through the open door, he kissed
his wife, took her in his arms and to bed.
It was not merely physical, or difficult,
or rare (Spinoza notwithstanding).
And his library grew many new words.

R.M. Blair facilitates weekly poetry workshops for guests at Miriam’s Kitchen, a Washington, D.C.-based service center for homeless women and men.

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