Poetry

Struggle of Faith

Early morning
before he unlocks the church gate
the rector kneels before
the gridiron fence surrounding the Cathedral,
not in prayer
but to collect empty wine bottles,
snack bags, and used condoms.

After shoving them into a bag
he turns the latch key and enters the churchyard
shutting it behind him.
The hollow, thunderous deadbolt
echoes through trees like the voices of
ancient saints.

The garden before him remains
a sunlit shrine
to the transfiguration of Christ,
and, when open to the public,
serves as a refuge for the homeless and despairing.

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Giving Tree

Giving hands support a tree. Photo courtesy art4all/shutterstock.com

If I were a tree

     I would like to be

          A giving tree.

Leaves a peaceful green,

     Birds could sit and sing,

          Children laugh and swing

                Upon my branches.

 

Hell's Belly

Detail from "The Sea Stopped Raging," by Barry Moser, from Pennyroyal-Caxton Bible, 1999, used with permission.

From the midst of the nether
world I cried for help.
 —from the Book of Jonah

A gray whale blows off Cardiff Beach,
just beyond the glamour homes,
boutiques, and drive-thru windows,
valet service and all-u-can-eat sushi.
I want to swim out and be swallowed.

 
Jonah’s whale wasn’t Ahab’s, all
tripey white and peg-toothed, but
a strainer of phosphorescent shrimp,
which lamped the reeking gut, like
fireflies we swallowed once, in jars.


Even so, I say Moby gobbled Ahab,
steeped him in a pungent broth and
after 3 days spewed him bawling wet
onto the very beach where his
wife and boy kept a driftwood fire.


I hide in my own belly, treading a
sickly cocktail, on which float half-
eaten books, grocery lists, plastic bags,
dashboard figurines, and bugs like
butts in dregs of budget vodka.


No fireflies constellate these palms.
I fantasize a swarm, swallow it all,
that a spark might fall into my water.
I’d throw myself to the whale, to be
not digested, but gestated, then dis-


gorged, bleached and sucking light,
right here. I’ll scavenge bottles to hold
luminous soup I wring from my soul
and throw them to the waves for all
the other, countless, castaways.

 
Gene Fox studied philosophy and literature at James Madison University and served for 10 years as a librarian for the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. He now lives on the south coast of California.

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Marks

St. Francis of Assisi statue in Mexico, PerseoMedusa / Shutterstock.com
St. Francis of Assisi statue in Mexico, PerseoMedusa / Shutterstock.com

Editors Note: The following poem by Trevor Scott Barton was written while he was living in Africa and reading The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi.

Holding you in the palm of my hand
I see your tiny feet and hope you'll live and walk these stony paths
To the pump to get water.
Blessing you in your meekness and gentleness,
You are Jesus to me today.

What Matters Most

Follow me illustration, Jesus Cervantes / Shutterstock.com
Follow me illustration, Jesus Cervantes / Shutterstock.com

Kind, tired eyes from too much seeing ...

Worn, battered shoes from too much walking ...

Stained, tattered shirt from too much working ...

Gentle, calloused hands from too much holding ...

Open, humbled heart from too much knowing ...

Illuminated

On my knees I beg forgiveness for my greed—
and for starving myself.
By your eyes I see you love this priest,
follow his lyrical fingers in praise of
a small white host he points here,
there.

I—on the other hand—directly deal
with that twisted god over his head.
That god and I promise
never to go hungry again. We promise
to eat lilies and drink summer storms,
feed all evening on maize races and amaranth,
fast only in winter, a diet of light.

Abruptly, the church
shuffles to its feet, illuminated. You reach aloft
for that elevated thin-edged redemption.
I reach, mi amada, for you.

Rose Marie Berger, a Catholic peace activist, is Sojourners magazine’s poetry editor.
 

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A Mother's Love

Katie and Kay, photo courtesy Kay and Gordon Stewart
Katie and Kay, photo courtesy Kay and Gordon Stewart

Yesterday Kay Stewart shared this at the cemetery as we laid to rest the ashes of her first-born daughter Katherine (“Katie”).

For Christ to have gone before us,
To have kept us from ultimate sadness,
To be our brother, our advocate,
The One who ushers in the Kingdom,
Here
And the One to come,

Does not keep us from our digging today.
We still gather here and throw the dirt on our sacred dust,
We take the shovel like all those gone before us
And surrender to the Unknowable—
The place where
Love and Beauty and Kindness grow wild.
Where sorrow has no needs,
Where there is all beginning and
Nothing ends.

...

Infantry

Photo by Clay Patrick McBride

I

The crumpled woman pushes through the door
and sees your plump limp limbs

held tight in my buckled arms.

She remembers holding
such sweet eternity.

II

His temple:
life's bright beating softens here.

Some say it holds the place of time,

watch springs wrapped tight
under the bone.

III

Waking, he is held by his father,
whose arms have newly borne

weapons made

to breathe heavily
into our enemy chest.

Bree Devones Hsieh works with Servant Partners and lives in Pomona, California.

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Second Line


Blindfolded and gagged, tossed in the back
of a car—it's how they gather up young men
and after tire irons and chains, leave some

lying in the road like dirt, rained on all night.
Some are bundled-up, tossed off a bridge
into the river whose muddy swirls warn:

kick, fight, breathe, twist your arms free.
Some do. They rise, spit out the rags
stuffed in their mouths, limp back to town,

and one begins to sing—slow at first— Lord,
I want to be in that number
... Another moans
a low muted tone where words won't go.

And there's a bridge from verse to verse,
where bodies rise out of thicket and ditch,
out of jail cell, ravine and watery grave,

where gone, invisible hands seem to lift
like drum sticks, and soul sax blood brass
begin to flow, a band improvising

resurrection, until the dead
take to the streets, a spirit insurrection,
dripping river muck and frayed rope—

with crow-pecked eyes, burnt flesh, charred bone,
they rise, every flown soul finding its way
back through troubled air to swell that song.

Betsy Sholl, former poet laureate of Maine, lives in Portland. Her most recent poetry collection is Rough Cradle (Alice James Books).

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Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

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