Poetry

PLUS: Poetry Written by Members of the Free Minds Book Club

Poet Ambassadors / Photo courtesy of Free Minds

The Forgiveness

By Steven

I forgive my dad for walking out on his only son
I forgive the people who think they get over
When they assume that I’m dumb
I forgive life for dealing me this hand
I forgive my inner boy for not becoming a man
I forgive the man who bumped me
Because he couldn’t see
I forgive ...
But I can’t forgive everything
Because I’ve yet to forgive me ...

Steven is an active member of the Free Minds Book Club.

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The Living and the Unforgotten

TUVIA RUEBNER HAS earned the lament he wrote for King David, Israel’s better-known sorrow bearer. The poet came into the world 91 years ago in Pressburg-Bratislava, Slovakia, under Nazism’s shadow. It is a shadow he managed to separate himself from physically, but which sticks to him philosophically and is at the core of his poetry. The parched sound of random loss is the root sound in many of his poems. The spawn of an unimaginable yesterday, Tuvia Ruebner is more than anything a poet of today.

His parents, his grandparents, and his little sister Litzi all perished at Auschwitz in 1942, a year after he immigrated to British Mandate Palestine. Forty years after their deaths, Ruebner’s first son, Moran, was sent to fight in Israel’s first Lebanese war. Moran left for South America the following year, estranged from his country and its wars, and after a few letters, was never heard from again.

In Ruebner’s poem “[My father was murdered],” one by one he enumerates his losses:

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Poetry: The Stillwater- Montana

Lay me down, oh lay me down bankside—
scratched by the blue wildrye, I hear the freshet-rush
of the river drunk on winter’s waters, what lie
it makes of a hushed name.

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Rewriting a Prison Sentence

Photo courtesy Free Minds

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM in the United States is gaining momentum with each graphic video showing fatal police abuse. In the aftermath of the many deaths of unarmed black men and women and the city-wide protests that erupted in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland, it is not surprising that presidential hopefuls are making bold public statements about the need to change a system that is profoundly unjust, overly punitive, and excessively costly to run.

At the other end of the spectrum, away from TV cameras and political wrangling, activists such as Tara Libert and Kelli Taylor, co-founders of the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop, are dealing with decades of draconian anti-crime policies that have resulted in mass incarceration rates marked by racial disparities that have had a devastating impact on families and communities.

The numbers speak for themselves. Although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has nearly 25 percent of its prison population. According to The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy organization working to reform the U.S. criminal justice system, more than 2.2 million Americans are now locked up in prisons and jails across the country—a 500-percent increase over the past 30 years. Furthermore, those who are incarcerated come largely from the most disadvantaged segments of the population.

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Pocket Poetry: What We're Reading for National Poetry Month

Sojourners has published poetry — the language of praise, lament, psalm, scripture, love, and prayer — in our magazine pages since our earliest years. In recognition of National Poetry Month’s “Poetry in Our Pocket Day,” and in celebration of Sojourners’ historical love of poetry, our staff selects our favorite poems below. And be sure to check out the poem published in our May 2015 issue, “This Is Praying” by Lisa Dordal.


Karen LatteaVice President, Human Resources
"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" by Wendell Berry

“Ask the questions that have no answers. / Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. / Say that your main crop is the forest / that you did not plant, / that you will not live to harvest.”

For a person of faith fighting injustice, these words can lift heart and soul. Desmond Tutu likewise said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world,” echoing Pete Seeger’s philosophy that the accumulation of many small deeds adds up to big change.

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10 Artists of the Black Lives Matter Movement

While statistics, tweets, marches, and articles can bolster and enliven movements, art brings in the endurance. Art makes injustice a song that gets stuck in your head. Art makes murals out of obituaries, and hope out of statistics. Below, check out some of the art surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement:

Jenna Barnett is an editorial assistant to Sojourners magazine. You can find her on Twitter @jennacbarnett.

Dear Francis

When it comes to living small,
you were ahead of your time,
which is why I nominate you
patron saint of tiny homes. So
you haven’t heard of them?
Think: chapel for one on wheels
with cedar floors, a loft to sleep,
and a skylight in the roof—here
is where I’d go to pray, and where
I pray to live (pending a friend
to let me squat, and the zonin
board’s OK). It’s a new way
of being poor. I hope you will
approve.

Humbly,

Abigail Carroll, author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, lives in Winooski, Vermont.

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Redemptive Verses

POET BRUCE WEIGL inhabits two places in his life, in his work. Two places that could not be more different. But in the course of our conversations, I come to think of them as a single place, the way two hands are part of a single body. One place is Lorain, Ohio. The other is Vietnam.

Ever since the Vietnam War ended, the life of this mill worker’s son has swung between those two far-flung poles.

I met Weigl at a Starbucks in Manhattan’s East Village. I was interviewing a friend of his, Adrie Kusserow, about her book of poems on South Sudan. Weigl was content just to drink his coffee and listen to us talk. He intervened only once, when Kusserow and I began decrying public indifference to South Sudan’s pre-independence history of slaughter, enslavement, and banishment by Sudan.

“If I may defend my fellow human beings here, there are so many places in the world today where there is suffering. It is understandable that people may miss one or two,” he said.

The suffering of the Vietnamese, and of soldiers like himself who fought in Vietnam, is still burned into his psyche like some gory tattoo. It is to be found in every one of his 13 books.

In his poem “Ice Storm,” from The Abundance of Nothing (TriQuarterly Books), short-listed for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, he writes:

I got my own personal Jacob’s ladder,
buddy, reader, listener to this
sad song. I built a temple for the ghosts
because they just kept coming.

Weigl’s work is strewn with ghosts: ghosts of Vietnamese children hit by American fire (but also the cherished non-ghost, his adopted Vietnamese daughter, Hahn), the ghosts of a soldier’s legs severed by a Bouncing Betty, the ghost of his own lost self, inflicted miserably on bar girls. He constructs a stairway of ghosts that empties into a redemptive space. A space that has prevailed over the ghosts, while being unable to actually evict them.

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Anna

I.
The wailing and the murmured prayers,
the animal ruckus, and coin against coin,
smoke hanging in the temple spaces—
offerings that bear our love to the seat of heaven.

For sixty years my soul has leaned
so hard toward the Almighty, I’m open
like a flower drenched with light
that blossoms into words.

Yet I wonder, will I rest too soon
will I sleep like Miriam
with no honey from the Promised Land
to sweeten this old life?

II.
But now she enters with new-mother steps,
her strong gaze searching us
for hearts that see. I turn to tell all
who wait, who yearn for consolation,

look, she brings the Word most fully,
this young woman cradling the body
of Emmanuel against her heart
arms trembling with the weight.

Kristina LaCelle-Peterson is an associate professor of religion and part of the Center for Faith, Justice, and Global Engagement at Houghton College in New York.

Image: Woman holding baby,  / Shutterstock

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51.

Wizards! Caspar! Melchior! Balthasar!
Why fly straight to Fox Herod? Through
Unbounded night—! Bringing only news
Ripe for bloodletting. How black a star
You follow. Herod knows. How bizarre
A kingly claim. Will he oppose? Muse
Like Mary? Ha—! Mothers’ sons lose
Heads to swords & axes. Herod bars
The throne to Jesus. Who kills first?
Herod orders. Dash ’em every one—!
Every male child under two years old.
God’s son Jesus flees to Egypt. Thirst
For blood remains. Later he won’t run.
Soldiers spear his side. So God behold.

Marilyn Seven is an artist living in New York City. This sonnet is number 51 in an unpublished collection of 100.

Image: Three wise men looking towards the star,  / Shutterstock 

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