Poetry

Trumpet

There were two sets of stairs:
the front ones curving and formal
while the backstairs rose steep
as a canyon wall. As a girl, I used to fly
from their heights when I wasn’t falling.

And now I climb a footbridge
to what remains
of Civita di Bagnoregio, a small hilltown
like an island in the sky, surrounded
by spectacular nothingness.

Moments ago, I was terrified
looking up at the projected journey,
but now, safely inside the walls,
there’s a rush of energy, a feeling
of never being more inside my body,

exploring small lanes
over two thousand years old
that all end at the brink.
The stone church with relics of Bonaventura,
a wooden manger in an Etruscan cave,

a bruschetta with garlic toasted over coals,
and a framed photo of a man on a horse
barrelling down
an earlier incarnation of the footbridge,
his face lit by something wild.

My older brother’s room was at the top
of our backstairs. I am haunted still
by the sounds of his weeping
beyond the door. But other times
there were the golden notes of his trumpet,

creating a space in his bedroom
for something so much larger.
I hear him playing Bach
in this Italian town where every century or so
another house or lane lets go.

Annie Deppe is the author of Sitting in the Sky and Wren Cantata. She lives (mostly) on the west coast of Ireland.

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Nativity

The amaryllis bulb, dumb as dirt,
inert, how can anything spring
from this clod, this stone,
the pit of some subtropical,
atypical, likely inedible fruit?
But it does: out of the dark
earth, two shoots, green
flames in December,
despite the short days,
the Long Night Moon
flooding the hard ground.
Nothing outside grows;
even small rodents
are burrowed in
the silent nights.

Then, one morning—
a single stalk,
then a bud
that swells, bells
full sail, full-bellied,
the skin grows thin,
tighter, until it splits:
heralds the night
will not be endless,
that dawn will blossom,
pearly and radiant,
and two white
trumpets unfold, sing
their sweet song,
their Hallelujah chorus,
sing carols in the thin cold air,
and our mouths say O and O and O.

Barbara Crooker’s (www.barba racrooker.com) most recent poetry collection is More. She lives in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania.

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How Dare the Sun Ascend?

We all knew it would come.
Someday. Always later.
Mañana.
It comes for us all. Sure.
Of course.
We know that. Someday.
Mañana.

But when someday draws near
for someone you love
whose silenced breath sears
your lungs with flames of grief
and sobs so immense
you wonder:
How dare the sun ascend?
The stars to shine?
Even the yeast to rise!

Who authorized the Earth to turn another inch?
Gravity itself should be suspended,
and the new moon halt in midair
with its ghostly light exposing
every predator’s stare.

All words—every syllable—fail and flail about
as if comfort answers to incantation,
as if death leaves no bruise,
as if sorrow can be shhushhed away like
crows from the cornfield.

Only flesh on flesh can convey
the pledge, to shivering hands and quivering hearts,
the implausible news that dust is not the end.
Only cheek to cheek,
and mingled tears,
chase back fears
to their perditious haunt.

For the soul come undone,
let skin speak to skin, with hands’
gentle brace of countenance consumed
in doleful, woeful recoil.
The dirge will
have its day,
the sigh will have its say.
But not more, not a minute
more, than its allotted time.

For the day lies in wait
when fear will be trumped,
every tear satiated, every
mournful lament yielding the floor
to the sound of angels clogging,
feet pounding parquet
in rhythmic cadence,
whirling and twirling,
with shouts of delight
and volleys of glee
harmonized
by fiddle and banjo and bass.

The Caller of that dance
has been known
to raise
the dead.

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Heaven's Back Door

Eschewing perfection, they knotted in a flaw,
the human signature and kink that made
the carpet whole -- not less perfect, but more
for the fraying edge, the bleeding dyes
that cloak their treasure in disguise,
an act of indirection modeled from on high:
as when the Deity said Be ...
and out crawled -- the twisted,
the crippled, the deformed.

Surely He was speaking metaphorically,
this fallen world a figure for some brighter,
truer Word; this knotted, knotty life
designed as time's poor foil
and fool, a school whose graduates
recoil beyond the mortal coil.
Or is the coil itself the thing
the Weaver meant
when He said Be ...?

The loops and tangles of our fate
no metaphors for straight, but how all lives
must spin and be unspun in arabesque,
curving first away, then back again
toward whence they came.
Error being the game perfection plays --
which, by seeming less, becomes the more.
Arriving at heaven's back door
by our flawless sense of indirection.

Richard Schiffman is a poet and writer who splits his time between New York City and New Mexico.

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Giving Voice

the heart dares the word dares the page
lest love stick in the throat of this pen,
and go untold

i remember my name
in your voice
echoing down the underground hall
beneath niebuhr place:
come, crack a jar of scotch
come for talk and a minted brew of tea
come to life. wake. arise.
(an ascent follows, sweet and rash)

somehow that calling
pipes through the kentucky hills retreat.
while i practiced sport, before smoke rose from detroit
your prayer with louis and circle
breached the walls to fall also on me.
summoning unbeknownst an answer.

(later, in a season of crushing dark
you opened for me the gatehouse door
there to walk and breathe and eat the psaltery
to face dread dreams and heal)

confess a thing:
even on this island now
the tabletalk of poet and keeper
hatches the seminary renegade.
that heady charismatic anarchy
revives as we speak
and our once fresh formation
turns, can it be, to eldering.

as toward the body politic
flesh of word presented,
burning with truth the charnel house lies,
this blood on pillars gashing gold vermillion,
or hammer nailing it to the door of church and state.
in consequence, this bravery with a difference
the holy ghost gone militant
free in the cuff, in the dock, in the yard

for all
for missives kited in and out
for the discipline of hope
for drinking the moon underground
for writing on the wall, against it
for bread in lotus fingers

all echoes in the heart at dusk
footfalls on the way beloved
this thanks untellable

Bill Wylie-Kellermann, a United Methodist pastor who serves St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, was mentored as a seminarian by Catholic poet and peace activist Daniel Berrigan, SJ.

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Edict

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.
                                   -- Czeslaw Milosz, "Ars Poetica?"

I used to smell the wet maples, the leathery
green primers, saturated with cursive drops
of cloudburst, a lesson in penmanship after every
cleansing rain and as that sated sensation

hovered one mid-afternoon between conscious
thought and oblivion an angel approached
barefoot on the windowsill and stood toes
dripping with sap like medicine. He

said the only way to meet them all
is to patch the hole through which the
mosquitoes enter and the only way to
block that entrance is to re-write the edict

that's been degraded by recent radioactive
leaks in Japan. He went on, get your energy
elsewhere, photosynthesis maybe. I
said, I’m a mystery to anyone on that coastline, but

would like to know them if there's time. Then we
broke off communication -- I from my end by preaching
a sermon and he from his end by converting
to Dadaism. Now nothing is ever really moist and

every tree's ambivalent about growth in a downpour
although many might interpret leaves as they fall.
King Cyrus issued the last legal declaration yet
there’s no use hearing it unless debris cooperates.

Scott Kinder-Pyle is a Presbyterian pastor in Spokane, Washington.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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Amputees

In our city we see them sometimes,
out for the day with a girlfriend:
new-fangled leg still learning to walk
in a style we call natural. Metal joint
exposed by shorts that flaunt
the terrific other leg, too.

Arms intact, though -- one hand holds
an ice cream cone, the other hand
the girlfriend's hand, as they stroll
jerky across the plaza to the fountain
where they join the other couples --
also bloodied though we may not
know it -- trying not to stare.

Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock and DC Poets Against the War, is the author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden. She lives in Washington, D.C., home of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

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Beneath Me

Touched your hem
A thousand times
A face just
Beyond my sight
Space between
Grace, grief

A hand could
Cool blistered skin
A word might
Hush broken minds
And speak
Sweet relief

You broke my
Center of gravity
Left me
At the edge
My foot slipped
You turned

A torn veil
Face laid bare
Ground gave way
Beneath me
Death’s dust near
God, be not far

Sneha Abraham is a writer and editor at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

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Luke 5:1 Disciples

Here are working men
with hands that are calloused

not consecrated. They are used
to the burn of ropes,

sweat and smells
of fish, fraying nets

and the squinting worry
of work.

This time they
are the ones caught,

though they try to close
their eyes,

like fish, they are lidless
and they are seen.

Somehow they are known
by this stranger

who smells like blood
on wood.

Joseph Ross teaches at American University and coordinates poetry and lectures at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mike Kemp/Corbis.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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As A Second Language

My husband, he die
without water in desert.
Walking Saudi Arabia --
no jobs in Yemen
for policemen
from Somalia.

My tongue struggles
against my teeth to shape
these harsh English sounds
so unlike the sibilance of Arabic.

Government kill
my country. Airplane,
bombs. We run
to Ethiopia, then Yemen.
We have nothing,
nothing but Allah.

But I wish no language
could describe
scavenging
like unclean dogs
in refugee camps
with no hospital,
my daughter dying,
my husband gone.
My father, a lawyer,
kidnapped
with my brother
by soldiers.
Allah, where
is your mercy?

My two sons,
no schools.
Camp people talk to me,
I sign papers, fly America,
English class.

If I learn the vocabulary
for those years, will my ghosts
follow me here? Oh, Allah!

Noel Julnes-Dehner, an Episcopal priest in southern Ohio, is a documentary writer. Her current work is The Right Track, about formerly incarcerated women and men re-entering society.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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