Poetry

Imperfection

Imperfection is the place where the spirit enters,
the small hole in your shirt, the loosening threads
of carpet, the ache in your soul for forgiveness.
Where the camel waits, where the eye strays,
where the hand reaches up, empty of all but breath,
is the place where the soul begins, its gravity mightier
than we may ever know. There, where the rug unravels
like a rope of time, where pockets bleed their secrets
between the seams. In a widow’s eyes words appear
lit up like stars in a deep sky: If God is all we believe,
soul and sorrow and bliss, the soul is stone and lattice,
ligature and air, and it lives in the body’s secret lapses.
How grateful then to know imperfection’s door swinging
open and closed, how good to be humbled.

Rachel Guido deVries teaches creative writing in New York. Her most recent collection of poems is The Brother Inside Me (Guernica Editions, 2008).

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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Sunday with Julian

She consoles me as I meditate
before Mass—Julian of Norwich,
that is, who says, “We are clothed,
wrapped in the goodness of God.”

And she consoles me after Mass
when I drive home to the friary and
pass two prostitutes who are sitting
on folding chairs next to the curb
helping each other with makeup.

And that evening, too, when I go
to Frisch’s for a Big Boy and fries,
and a boy’s talking to his girlfriend
in the booth next to mine—talking
and talking—and his girlfriend’s
eyes say she just wants to hold him
and quiet him—and he keeps talking
and her eyes keep trying to say,
Let’s leave.
And when I leave, he’s
still talking, “You know what I’m
saying?” and she’s still trying to
subtly persuade him they should
leave and then I’m walking behind
a middle-age man, a son helping
his older mother to the car, and ahead
an older man’s walking with his pregnant
teen-age wife and she’s smiling as he
talks and eats an ice cream cone and I
think, the Mass still isn’t over.

And as I get into the car, Julian’s in
my thoughts again and I say to myself,
They’re all clothed in the goodness
of God—and I’m about to drive away
when a prostitute, tattooed abundantly,
comes to my open window and asks,
“Do you have a lighter I could borrow
from you?” and I say, “No, but I can
give you some matches” and she says,
“I don’t do matches,” and I’m wondering
is there a code here I’m not aware of? And
she says, “Hey, you’re the guy who didn’t
give me a ride earlier, aren’t you?” and
of course I was and didn’t, fearing what
it might look like, forgetting Julian, and
she says, “I said to myself, Okay, I like
the jerk anyway,” and walks away.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2008
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Praise

Praise God for all things green

Lime jello, blades of grass, emeralds

Chameleons, the neon river frog

Heavy papayas begging to be picked

Lilies thrusting their tender shoots through dirt

Love when it knows nothing more than hope

Praise God for all things brown

Hot coffee, sloppy mud, chocolate

The warthog’s tail and Stephen’s hazel eyes

Crafty cinnamon biting with its bark

My mother’s face, as soft as baby skin

Love leaving its stain on colorless days

Praise God for all things red

Round bindi, rose petals, ladybugs

A cardinal, sweet Hannah’s dumpling cheeks

Angry dried chilies waiting to set fires

The line of blood that seals a healing wound

Love giving with no promise of return

Praise God for all things black

Umbrellas, peppercorns, ebony

The zebra’s stripe and Anna’s curly hair

Pungent fish tamarind seeping bitter truth

The thick unseeing darkness of the night

Love struggling when it cannot understand

Praise God for all things white

Shaving cream, smooth eggshells, buttermilk

Albino pigs, rabbits romping in snow

Steaming basmati rice humming a tune

A waterfall half-glimpsed through forest trees

Love reaching through darkness into light

Chandy C. John is a poet, essayist, fiction writer, and pediatrician living in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
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Picasso Used a Pigeon

I expect the whitest dove,

purity as the Spirit breaks apart

firm blue of our ceilinged sky,

a tapered shape, an elegance.

But Picasso was right.

True peace comes

with pretensions shed.

A waddling gait, a persistent

hunger, a messy trail leads us

to each other. Our feathers

are shifty of color, but we like

people and we gather

with our kind. No one sings

our praises as we soften the air

with our short sad songs. Only then

can true grace drift down.

Carol Hamilton lives in Midwest City, Oklahoma. Her forthcoming poetry collection is Shots On (Finishing Line Press).

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Sojourners Magazine August 2008
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Mrs. Logan's Garden Hose


She spoke softly, calmly recounting
her pain through a furnace of litanies
that helped her hold on to the unbelief
that the boy who hanged himself
in her basement was the same boy
silent in the glossy photograph
that she displayed in her hands,
whose memory snarled like
a wild dog at her ankle.
“A murderer,” he’d called himself,
remembering the two kneeling Iraqi
captives whose last sight was his AR-14.
“Joe had just wanted something to do,”
whispered the lady with the photo.
So, through the smoke that melted away
from extinguished Iraqi cities, Joe drove his truck.
Joe buried corpses. Joe obeyed orders.
He once stopped at an intersection where he
saw a child torn apart and tossed in bloody indignity.
Her lifeless hands clutched an American flag.
On that memorable day, he shot them.
Unarmed. Bound.
The fear in Iraqi eyes branded a horror
that beckoned his liquor, fueled his despair,­
and stretched Mrs. Logan’s garden hose.
In the photograph
there is a young girl’s blood-stained flag
furled atop the chest of
the young Marine.

Louis Templeman lives at the Baker Correctional Institution in Sanderson, Florida.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2008
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What I have Seen

I have seen that I must
Confess to ignorance

I do not know you, although
I have loved you twenty years

The lifting of your lashes
From your cheek

The drawing back by your hand
A lock of your hair

But fully you? I have not seen you
Except through those windows

The green shades surrounding them
The radiant darkness behind them

Press your fingers
Around my arm again

Let’s walk, far, long
Tracking through wilderness

You are world enough to explore
For another twenty hundred years

For an army of scientists
Whom I will not invite

But for me, your husband lover,
For all your friends

A clear night sky tells us
In small script your large mystery

You are a bright ground for play
Even a temple where God walks

I have glimpsed his immensities
There

Kevin Hadduck lives and works in
McPherson, Kansas.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2008
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Prayer

If, over this world, there’s a ruler
who holds in his hand bestowal and seizure,
I turn in prayer, asking him
to decree for the hour of my demise
that it be a morning on Lake Keowee,
in early spring when the bloodroot
and yellow violet are in bloom in the woods
beyond us, a ghost of fog moving slowly,
almost imperceptibly, across the grey water.
And I ask that it be after a long trip,
after I have seen my grandmother, my brother,
after I have looked upon the face of a niece
I’ve never seen, after I have said to my father
what I need to say to my father, whatever
that may be then, and on that morning on the lake,
may I be on the dock with my beloved,
tossing bits of biscuit to the fish, rising
from the green depths like memories—and
across the lake the sound of two geese
calling to one another

Ed Madden, author of Signals (2008), is writer in residence
at the Riverbanks Botanical Gardens in Columbia, South Carolina.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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Prayer of the Iris


Like the iris
in the side yard,
I have stopped blooming.
Dig me up, O Spirit,
and split me; where I have grown
calloused, break me open;
then drive me deeper
into darkness,
where I wait for you
to pull my yearning
to live fully
into the light;
then let me offer
my purple and gold freely
to all who pass by.

Carol Tyx teaches American literature at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2008
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Judgment


I cannot tell you why
I taste death;
the cupboards

are reasonably
arranged,
the windows clean as rain.

Armies of women and their children
drift across borders in despair,
flies at the corners of their deep, round eyes.

I have tried, in my way,
with remnants of virtue,
to unearth God from the salvages.

Leave the wine and the oil untouched,
says the prophet.
Drought, famine, war

will mark the martyrs
from the thieves.
It is a subtle thing

for theologians to discern
who bears the holy,
who is winnowed
by death from death.

Kathleen Hirsch, author of A Sabbath Life: One Woman’s Search for Wholeness, teaches at Boston College.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2008
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After the Fall

The bough we clasped
while climbing towards
phantasmal blue
has broken—

we lie on concrete,
begging with a
shattered golden bowl.

A mere sieve to strain
mercy we cannot hold.

But hunger is ours.
We cradle insatiable want.
A taste we can barely conjure
from the stores of ash-coated tongue.

We long for the water struck
from rock—
flowing with memory of granite
and sleeping snows distilled.

Taste of the sweet flakes
floating
down through the soundless
universe—

Such beauty we pecked once,
as sparrows in a field—

unafraid, knowing the farmer
on whose land we alight
would crush the fox before
he could strike.

Jasmine Marshall Armstrong lives with her husband, Luke, in California’s Lompoc Valley. She is also an MFA candidate in poetry at California State University, Fresno.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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