Poetry

The Blades of Grass in the Garden of Gethsemane Speak to Me

Yes, his blood was on us once,
making us famous blades within the blades
community. I mean, many of us
had taken blood and sweat before
from lions and dogs and even fallen birds
or lovers and killers and the killed
but this was the first time we took both
at the same time, from the same creature.

You humans have that saying,
Blood, sweat, and tears. By this you signify work.
Consider the lilies of the field, he said
of our cousins. They neither work nor spin
but I tell you that not even Solomon
in all his glory was clothed like them.

Yes, we’re a humbler variety of plant
but news of him comes every time you all do,
which is often now. There are tour guides who speak
all the human tongues, and we are trampled
for being famous blades
but then are resurrected.

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The Peacemakers

Chiamaka tells of women who plant seeds
of peace in tribal towns, pot-banging with spoons
to call men off their game of raid-and-rape.

A girl named Hope intercepts the hands
of crowing children trading blows
and coaxes them to shake their hands

although her own are quaking. At school
my shy daughter stuffs notes in friends’ lockers,
imploring playground harmony.

In town there are the vocal ones who yield the floor
and quiet ones now brave enough to vote
against their own friends for a just cause.

Anyone will bless those who fear no fire,
stout souls no bomb can keep away
from those who need a sip, a hand, an ear,

but can’t we also bless survivors whose hearts
and skin are plucked or peeled to give to someone else
whose family awaits some news in silent burning?

Can’t we bless the time-gnarled knuckles
of hands that knead and lead and wring and hammer
and hold and pause and praise?

Sometimes even we—
pierced with arrow-words, with brassy
cacophonies of slurs—stand in calm.

We watch. Although we fibrillate with doubt, still
we bless the one who stands before the rolling tank
and all the world’s dark eyes that gather light.

Kathleen McCoy, a creative writing teacher at SUNY Adirondack, lives in Queensbury, N.Y. She’s actively involved with Split This Rock and with 100 Thousand Poets for Change.

Image: Soldier show in Children's Day, Trakan / Shutterstock.com 

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A Spirituality of Solitude

Miles of yellow wheat bend; their leaves / rustle away and wait for the sun and wind.
—From “A Farewell, Age Ten”

We wondered what our walk should mean, / taking that un-march quietly; / the sun stared at our signs—"Thou shalt not kill.”
—From “Peace Walk”

WILLIAM STAFFORD was a poet of the land and a conscience that fanned out over the land. Born in Hutchinson, Kan., 100 years ago—on Jan. 17, 1914—it was perhaps his early intimacy with space and sky that opened him to the mystery of human frailty.

At age 6, he saw two black students at his school being taunted by whites. He stood with them.

Another mystery: He who personifies the term national poet is largely unknown in his nation. Four new books (in his 79 years, Stafford published more than 50 books) published to coincide with his centennial might help redress this situation. Ask Me (Graywolf Press), from which the above excerpts are taken, brings to readers 100 “essential” Stafford poems dealing with his pacifism, his family, Native Americans, and the landscapes of his native Kansas and his adopted Oregon, where many centenary events are scheduled to take place.

Sound of the Ax: Aphorisms and Poems by William Stafford, edited by Vincent Wixon and Paul Merchant (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Press), reveals the Gandhian quality of the poet’s thinking: “Even if you are blind, there is still light ... The grace we need to find will not be found by the graceful only.”

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In the Beginning (A Theopoetic)

Wellspring, Oleh Slobodeniuk / Shutterstock.com
Wellspring, Oleh Slobodeniuk / Shutterstock.com

Recently, I presented this piece at the Christianity 21 Conference in Denver, and then at South Broadway Christian Church later that same week, also in Denver. I’ve been asked by several in attendance to post what I offered, so here’s the text below. The talk was accompanied by a slide show that depicted a combination of Hubble telescope images, electron microscope images and artists/musicians. I considered making that into a video, with me narrating the text underneath, but it takes a lot of time. So let me know if this is something you have particular interest in and I’ll try to make it happen.

In the Beginning

Art Saves lives because art is at the source of all life.
It is the taproot to the dormant breath of God,
Dwelling within all of creation, waiting for invitation.
What we think of today as art is not art.
It has become another product to be consumed,
Rather than a phenomenon to be engaged,
And experience to we have to submit ourselves to,
Allow ourselves to be changed,
And in doing so, catch a fleeting glimpse of
The author, the wellspring,
The essence of what it means to be a soul draped in skin and bone.

[Poem continues after the jump.]

Uncontained

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VIDEO: Poetry Reading by Yehoshua November

Yehoshua November, an award-winning Hasidic poet, has an uncanny way of finding the divine in everyday life. As Robert Hirschfield writes in “God ‘Beneath the Ordinary’” (Sojourners, January 2014), “November occupies…a world in which God dwells and moves in silence and mystery among people.”

Listen to November as he recites “Climbing,” one of several poems discussed in “God ‘Beneath the Ordinary.’"

 

Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.

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Shepherds

Night.
The sheep huddled against this big rock.
Jake keeps watch while I wrestle with sleep:
—wool prices down, third year
—owner talks of selling out
—Jake and me—Where do we go?
—Martha’s carrying our fifth child
—rumors that Herod’s at it again,
—this time killing babies.
—Same old story:
the Empire trades in fear.
Where can we run?
Like papa says, “I hate being poor.”

 

Pitch black.
Then a light out of the sky.
Am I asleep already?
I hear voices.
A rumor, they say:
             A refugee couple living in a box
                            in Bethlehem.
             Had a baby. Screaming. Cold. Hungry.
The voices are singing,
             “All will be well,"
              All will be well.”
Like papa says, “Dreaming is the only
             hope poor folks have.”

Harry C. Kiely, co-author of One Nation, Many Gods, is a retired United Methodist clergy living in Silver Spring, Md.    

Image: Sheep in the early morning light in the Dutch heath, Fotografiecor.nl / Shutterstock.com

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The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Image by K. J. Snoes

The clouds, pregnant with rain. No light
but an inkling of light. If Advent is a time

of waiting, of joyful anticipation, why are we
so often troubled? Consider Mary, the unknown

future she holds. Or Amy, staying the day
with D—, expecting in January, alone and now

spotting with unexpected blood, baby not yet
ready. What was our life before children? Years

of memories now include the children—as if they
already were born, only we could not see them.

Mary was “greatly troubled.” What burden of light
do we bear? Something in us and not us,

in which we see ourselves and those we love,
and something else, beyond all naming?

Philip Metres’ most recent collections of poems are A Concordance of Leaves and abu ghraib arias. He teaches at John Carroll University near Cleveland.

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VIDEO: The Poet of Poverty

As Andrea Ferich writes in “Digging” in the December 2013 issue, Camden, N.J. is a city of poverty and violence, with more than 40 murders taking place in one neighborhood in the last half-century.

Yet Camden is also a place where “we find our way toward beauty amidst the violence,” Ferich writes. At Sacred Heart Church in Camden, Father Michael Doyle pursues that beauty through poetry and prose. For years he has documented the despair and hope of Camden in monthly letters to friends.

“Poet of Poverty,” a 2008 film, journeys with Camden through the Father’s letters. In this excerpt, Martin Sheen reads the Father’s poem “The Dolphins Danced on Arlington.”

Poet of Poverty from Greenroom Productions on Vimeo.

Seven children were splashing in cascading water like shining wet dolphins in the sun. Somehow, they had hauled a discarded hot tub from Adventure Spas on Chelton Avenue, opened a fire hydrant and the powerful pressure sent the water upward on an old sheet of plywood into the tub and sent the children into ecstasies of delight in spite of all the awful misery around them…Nothing could daunt the wild surge of their young lives and hopes. What is it about hope! Does its real inspiration only rise out of the tragic emptiness to take its pure and unsupported stand against all odds?

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Thou Who Art in Me

And fallen, fallen light renew!
William Blake

Thou, this humid cloak at dusk, a blue
Air flattened, smoldering the same
Field for years. Oh, Thou—this hardened name
For You not joyously sprung, not grown to grace
Out of me: how to instill a tint
Of silver out from ash, a trace
                               Out, out from my cramped cell.
Renew our life, oh Thou! Wake, rise and glint
In me like extended wings slick with dew.
Be the pulse driven from a broken shell.

Robert Manaster’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications. He lives in Champaign, Ill.

Image: Shell on the beach, Jerry Sharp / Shutterstock.com

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