poem

Poetry: Picture of a Family after Cavafy

Micael Nussbaumer/Shutterstock

There’s a photo he carries for long journeys
like this one, for trips on loaded market lorries
where the passengers take their seat, perching
on top of cargo, or sitting on crude benches
inside the buses coming from Sudan with names
like “Best of Luck” or “Mr. Good Looking.”

As the road rumbles from Chad through Cameroon
to Nigeria, toward another year of medical school,
he always reaches into his inside coat pocket
and brings out the folded 4x6. Sees his brother,
with the latest jeans from the capital and a maroon
hoodie zipped half-way up, one leg placed forward
and his head tilted back—an “attitude” he’s learned
from movies and music pipelined from America.

Sees his mother, bright pink polyester swirling
around her figure, and remembers how she woke
before dawn to make him fangaso for his trip.
He sees the lines he and his brother have caused,
drawn into her face after years of worry,
fatherless years of selling produce in the market
and begging relatives for support. He sees the slight
twist of her mouth, the triumph of a mother
shining through the sorrow of leave-taking,
the promise for her child to have a better life.

Aaron Brown, author of Winnower, is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Maryland. He lives with his wife in Lanham, Md.

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July 2015
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Preparing For The Storm

The Greeks know how tightly coiled
are circumstances with many windings
before tragedy’s spring snaps.
The horse bolts flame-like from the gate;
we do not see its years of training.

So too, the thunderhead today slow bloating
and thickening with muffled rumblings.
The steeds were restless, but the reins
held tight, until a crack of the whip
unleashed the pummeling flood.

 

Remember how Gandhi’s salt marchers
lay themselves before the horses
of the Raj that trotted to the very edge
of that sea of prostrate bodies
before rearing back in alarm?

Those marchers knew a storm
was brewing, were neither cowed,
nor crushed. The heart is another kind
of stallion, stamping and kicking,
trampling the mind’s sour dust.

Lie down, lie down, there is still time.
And watch the horses prance.

Richard Schiffman is an environmental journalist and poet. His collection What the Dust Doesn’t Know is forthcoming from Salmon Press. Above, an Indian police officer attacks salt marchers in 1930.

Image: Ninh Hoa, Vietnam,  / Shutterstock 

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This is Praying

You hear a voice speaking
about a bird dragging its dark universe
of feathers across your yard,
and you realize it must be you

telling the boy how you carried its body
beyond the ambit of your dogs.
One eye, round as a coin,
fixing fear upon you, the other,

half shut. How the bird hauled
its body back into your yard,
dying with a will you could only
admire. Am I the bird?, the boy asks.

You can barely see his face
through the slot, eight inches
from the bottom of the door.
Pie-hole, they call it. You know

he cannot be cured of his crime.
But you can’t help yourself—
this language your body speaks
as you crouch, palms, knees

pressed against the prison floor.
He is nineteen, has an aunt, a mother,
both illiterate, both a hundred miles
away. No one knows why

they have stopped visiting.
You imagine his body, each Sunday,
learning again of their absence.
You imagine his organs, his bones

liquefying inside of his skin.
You imagine his eyes
staring out from his own
gathered flesh. It is three days

before Christmas and you have
ten minutes to spread something
like joy. You think of Vermeer,
the woman in blue, refusing
to obey the physics of light.
You do not even know
the source of your own voice.
Am I the bird? There is a window

beyond the canvas but Vermeer
thinks a shadow will be
distracting. You tell him—
the boy—about your dream.

How your mind had been
like a living thing nailed down,
trembling with what ifs
and how comes. And then

these words: I hear you,
I hear you breathing. A sound
coming from within and
beyond. Not a voice, exactly.

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All Eyes Are Upon Us

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
                           —Marvin Gaye

then they stomped
          John Willet
as he lay on the sidewalk
hands cuffed behind his back
and shot
                      Michael Brown

who was on his way this fall to college

Stop and frisk
Stop and frisk

and used a chokehold to kill

                    Eric Garner

who sold cigarettes one-by-one
on the street in Staten Island
and punched again, again
in the face
great-grandmother

                Marlene Pinnock

as she lay on the ground
then they stood around while
an angry bartender
pushed vet

                William Sager

down the stairs to his death;
maybe helped hide
the security videotape
then it was
unarmed

               Dillon Taylor

in Salt Lake City, and
homeless

              James Boyd

in Albuquerque

and       Darrien Hunt

in Saratoga Springs, Utah—
how about that grandmother
92-year-old

             Kathryn Johnston

shot to death in a SWAT team raid
gone bad?

in ’73 in Dallas

             Santos Rodríguez

was marked by officer Cain
who played Russian Roulette
with the handcuffed 12-year-old
in his cruiser—
till the .357 fired; Santos’ blood
all over his 13-year-old handcuffed
brother David

and those cries of
19-month-old      Bounkham Phonesavanh
in whose crib
the flash-bang grenade exploded

Shelter in place
Shelter in place

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Good Friday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tale of nails and wood
is retold on the BBC from Winchester,
with hymns about a balm in Gilead,
a wondrous cross, and the choirboys’ echo
of the Fauré Requiem. Cardinal Newman
sends blessings from the grave,
and the organ grumbles “Amen.”

Oddly enough, the sun has emerged today
after weeks of rain to wrap the world
in its pale shroud. The week
has been hard: a cousin rushed to hospital
with pneumonia, a friend trembling
with Parkinson’s, an old acquaintance
placed “in care,” looking for home
and cursing the staff at the locked front door.

In the pub, Peter and his brothers
joke about Leo’s ashes in the garage.
He was the youngest. Who’s next?
They have finished another Good Friday Walk—
nine miles, seven churches, a pint of bitter.

They talk of their father’s letter, newly resurrected
from a cardboard box, forty-nine crumbling pages
in his own sure hand, a wartime story of troops,
destroyers, German subs. The young man
on the ship knew not where he was going,
just following orders, except for the deception
of the letter smuggled out from the harbor in India
to his wife Mary. He called her his “budgie,”
sent kisses to the children.

Tomorrow will be empty and quiet,
time for a drive to Bakewell
through the ever-winding hills. The road
turns silver, scrolling down the mountain
through meadows dotted with newborn lambs.

Donna Pucciani’s most recent collection of poetry is Hanging Like Hope on the Equinox.

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Shore

 Daybreak. Image courtesy PlusONE/shutterstock.com

Daybreak. Image courtesy PlusONE/shutterstock.com

After the monsoon, after work, I catch   
you with your face in the hot laundry,
the syntax of spring held together by sap,
hanging wild and worried and crazy
in the lowest branch. In the ripe country,
salmon fold over the linens of the bay,
and I weep with you from the shore, embodied.
For still you feel the fell of dark, not day.

Bono: 'I Give Thanks Just for the Sanity of Billy Graham'

U2 frontman, investor, and philanthropist Bono, who isn’t shy about discussing his Christian faith, wrote a poem in honor of evangelist preacher Billy Graham that describes Bono’s relationship with Jesus as a “journey from Father to friend,” and how he learned of this through “the voice of a preacher,” Graham, “that gave my life a Rhyme.”

VIDEO: "Prairie Roots"

Our nation has a dangerous dependency on the extraction of fossil fuels, writes Katherine M. Preston in “A Burning Truth” (Sojourners, September-October 2014). When greed for oil leads to hydraulic fracking and pipeline construction, we “forget basic moral issues of justice and caring for our neighbors and the earth.”

Watch actress Pippa White perform her poem, “Prairie Roots,” a tribute to the resiliency of the land despite the harm of humans. However, as Pippa reminds us, without the care of good stewards, deep roots are hardly deep at all.

Credit: Bold Nebraska

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Lessons from the World's Loneliest Whale

Albert Ziganshin / Shutterstock.com

Albert Ziganshin / Shutterstock.com

In the northern Pacific Ocean, there is a giant whale named 52 Hertz. Scientists named him that because when he sings, the frequency of his whale song is around 52 Hertz. When other whales sing their songs, they sing at frequencies between 15 and 25 Hertz. His song cannot be heard by any other whale. He is known as the loneliest whale in the world.

Normally whales are communal creatures. They live their lives in family groups. They migrate from warm waters to cooler waters to give birth and find food. They follow the same migration route from year to year. 52 Hertz is different. He lives alone. He does not follow a migration route. He wanders the ocean, a lonely, wandering whale.

We do not know what kind of whale 52 Hertz is. He could be a deformed blue or fin whale. He could be a cross breed of those two types of whales. He could be a kind of whale we have yet to discover. He is an unknown whale.

Soon a team will set out on a seven-week expedition in search of 52 Hertz. Will they find him? Will he find them? Does he want to be found? I wonder.

AUDIO: Sabbath Poetry Reading

The author of more than 50 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Wendell Berry is not only a prolific writer but also a farmer and an environmental activist who holds a deep reverence for all of life and creation. In “The Harvest of Fidelity” (Sojourners, April 2014), Rose Marie Berger reviews Berry’s latest work, This Day—a collection of Sabbath poems that speak “in defense of precious things.”

Listen to Berger—Sojourners’ poetry editor—recite one of Berry’s Sabbath poems.

 

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