Poetry

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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Last Autumn Song

No, nothing,

she says, that is not God’s, and we approach
a crow ripping the entrails

of a truck-crushed fox, and the crow flees
our wheels, and the wind fills and tests the trees.

She says, I’m afraid I’ve believed
too much,

so we climb out,
throw shut the doors,

balance on tracks, huddle like tongues, like teeth
we chatter, we hum hymns, her purple skirts

go stiff with crusts of first frost, howl
the wind, the train, we embrace, the earth shakes,

boxcars bullet past, day eaten by dusk,
one hundred and sixteen we count, the crow

returns itself to beaky work, we call it Eliphaz.

In the book that broke the reader, she says,
the angel swung a sickle

over the curvy earth, curvy steel, then gathered
the vintage, then pitched it

into the great wine press. A small book, she says,
small and compact as a heart, as a trap.


Jesse Nathan, a Sojourners contributing writer, is an editor at McSweeney’s and author of Dinner, a chapbook of poems (Milk Machine). He lives in San Francisco.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2010
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Angels of America

The hospital chaplain who sits in the room of a sick child
in Chicago and brings the child to God—not with words
but by her quiet presence.

The Benedictine sister from Bolivia arriving in Michigan
in December. A stranger opening her arms to welcome her.

The father who sends his son to Afghanistan,
and the one who doesn’t.

The soldier killed in Iraq
whose obituary reads “no known family.”

The beautiful Pakistani boy and his family who move in
next door.

The angel who is sitting next to you in church texting a friend;
and the one who isn’t.

The student who completes a thousand forms
so that he can study abroad and still fulfill
the requirements of his nursing major.

The seminary student who comes back to visit
and announces, “I get it—Christianity is about listening.
Really listening.”

The chemist in her lab searching for answers at midnight.

The way we say good-by to someone we will miss,
pray for her safe journey.

The ways we love those we love.

The ways we learn to pray.

The good woman—the good man—who insists
on pouring out the contents of the alabaster jug.

During lean times, the extravagant gesture.

A tired poet in New York
ending a poem with a flourish:
Give my love to, oh, anybody.

Priscilla Atkins works as a librarian at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2010
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Firethorn

Over chatter of starlings and grackles,
you hear your father’s voice,
confident and constant as bee hum
in the backyard of your thoughts.
Echoing along the bedroom halls
of your memory, his voice lingers.
Even my grandfather, as he lay
dying in his son’s spare bed,
still heard his father’s intonations.
It does not matter if your father
were sage or simple, puissant or pathetic.
You hear his voice troubling you,
now a low intoning, now a thundering,
challenging you again from distraction.
You hear his voice, until one day,
you realize it is not his and has not been
for a long time. Instead, it is the sound
of your own venting, your pleading,
or perhaps your keening for a voice
you never heard, but imagined
and loved to distraction even in absence.
It is, after all, your own obsessive
dadadadadadadaaa until, finally, you
pull your hands away from your ears
and, as a wren chitters in the firethorn,
hear God speak for the first time.

Kevin Hadduck lives and works in McPherson, Kansas.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2010
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Flimsy Ribbon

Somebody noticed this quaking purplish spray
hung incongruous on late-winter's bough,
and tied a festive bow of multicolored yarns
to cheer the anomalous blossoms,
appearing ridiculous, as all first things,
and fragile, not to mention insanely hopeful—
puppets flailing on the still-chill gusts
they were not made for. Or like the earth itself
afloat the sea of night, hung pendulous
with life—which also came too soon,
and sways on slender stalk,
and is the improbable blossom of matter,
and may survive, or not, it is too soon to say.
To which some grinning God has tied
the breath of his own breath.


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

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Sojourners Magazine June 2010
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Songs of the Thieves Who Hung On Either Side

The first thief

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Sojourners Magazine April 2010
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Archbishop Romero's Alb Speaks

Alb: A white liturgical tunic worn as prayer for a heart protected from all stain and washed in the Blood of the Lamb.


He is not the only one pierced today.
I hold his body gentle as linen,
surround him in my arms
of flowing cloth: a pietá in fabric
and flesh. I remain with him, faithful,
as I have done since he was young.
Sorrow tears at the fiber of my being.
Decades ago when he lay prostrate at the altar,
we two were consecrated, our fates interwoven.
Each day since then, I have dressed him in light
white as the bread he lifted up,
bright as the rays of tropic sun shining
from his golden cup onto the crowds
of campesinos pressing close.
Now he lies at the altar once again.
I hold him still, but I have failed
to keep him free of stain or cleansed.
We both are soaked in the river of blood
flowing from his heart, his mouth, his ears.
My grief cannot blot out a mortal wound.
I protect, but I am not bullet-proof.

Mary Anne Reese is an attorney who lives in Cincinnati.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2010
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Watching

Because I lay on my back as a boy in the grass of the small yard behind our house watching clouds move and become faces, mostly,

I was able to sit for a long time holding my dying mother’s hand as her sleeping face changed like a field in the sun under moving clouds,
and to hold my newborn grandson now and watch his features changing moment to moment, propelled by some inner wind I suppose must be like dreaming,
and because this watching is above, after, and before words, I am unable to describe what I believe I understand and how it comforts and sustains me.
Richard Hoffman, author of Without Paradise and Gold Star Road, is writer-in-residence at Emerson College in Boston.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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