Poetry

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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My Imperfect Caligraphy

My strokes are halting, not like the imagined fluidity
of the monastic scribes, hunched, by candlelight,
over some ancient text, perhaps the Our Father,
being deftly rendered in the thin black liquid
of a gently dipped quill.
From their sublime to my ridiculous work
in colored calligraphy markers
purchased at the local drugstore.
But my text is the same, the Our Father;
except mine is printed on the inside jacket
of the pocket edition of a scriptural rosary book,
printed and published a mere forty years ago.
What in heaven's name is the same about this?
Possibly the hope of being aligned with the Wild Holy,
or maybe the reverence for words spoken two thousand years ago
and murmured again and again a billion times since,
offering blessed connection to the communion of saints and sinners,
past and present, who join together and voice
the desire for the Divine to be all in all.
Oh, and one last thing;
the candlelight.

Rob Soley tutors children with an array of learning challenges and lives in a cooperative community in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2011
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The Way to Cold Mountain

Bach wrote his solo cello suites as études, not for performance.
Imagine, the arpeggios of the first prelude, forever private,
As if God had chosen to craft the stars behind a curtain of darkness.

The tree from which the cello was built continues leafing in chords.
The chords the cello hummed in its chest linger in the cave of the ear.
We may be breathing the air our own breaths touched, years ago.

Breath hurries from us like a rabbit springing through tall grass
In the sun-bleached fields of Being. But why worry about that?
Better to lie down in the grass, or better yet, dash through it ourselves.

Maybe the orchards we meet in childhood become the Eden we lost
Before we were born. But if that’s so, why am I not weeping
Under these blowsy peaches while I share their windfall with wasps?

Snowmelt swelled the stream, but the churning falls were warm.
Forgiveness is that way: you go in, expecting chill, but come out frothy
As a newborn. I could say more, but it’s cold. I’m going back in.

Han-Shan says the way to Cold Mountain runs through Cold Mountain.
I keep looking to see if there's a footpath through these trees.
Maybe if I wander down into that lonely valley there, I'll find it.

Temple Cone teaches English at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. His newest book is The Broken Meadow.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2010
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Jesus and the Cabbage

His friend Martha's making soup, because you still
have to eat. Meanwhile, back in the Garden

cave, the same Garden where he prayed to let
this cup pass from him, he comes to himself lying

on a stone shelf in the cool dark, all 200 pounds
of him, only changed. Minus mass, maybe,

or impervious to gravity. He doesn't understand this
as a physics problem. He lifts his hand and stares

at it. In town Martha's trying to keep her tears out
of the soup. The cabbage offers her its tough pale green

handles to steady her wobble. She strips its layers
down to the heart, while Jesus -- whoo-ee! His astonished face,

chisel it in marble! -- lasers through the swaddling
grave clothes. Heaven’s volatile physics draws him up.

In the deepest dark of winter when I hold a cabbage,
peel off its outer leaves, before I plunge the knife in,

I think when I take that kind of journey,
I might light my path with this green moon.

Jeanne Murray Walker lives in Philadelphia and teaches at the University of Delaware. Her newest book is New Tracks, Night Falling.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2010
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