Poetry

The Wheel

I stepped down from the train,

Saw you there, old man, bent

Next to the Tudor station, smiling

And waving to me over the steering wheel.

Your aged blue eyes

Saw us through the maze of roads

 

Walled by high corn and close trees, roads

Which branch away from the train 

Station to the cottage, to your wife’s eyes

And worn wrinkled skin.  Her back bent

Over the low table.  You turn the wheel

And press the horn, she’s smiling,

'The Hungry Soul in Pursuit of the Full Soul'

‘The Hungry Soul in Pursuit of the Full Soul’
On Proverbs 8

My saints won’t be named by a church.
Their sainthood won’t stand as statues. Listen.
Voices
calm as cooking directions
play continually—

If any thing’s resurrectible, it’s memory:
those eyes,
song-haloed, so full of lightness
nothing could stop their flight;
not a Thomas who peers into pupils’ darkness,

not a ravenous soul left grounded.
We are born, yin-yanged, of lightning
with saints and putti the lightest of all.
But love-rumpled faces, quick limbs, and pierced hearts
are unstable, done only in clay.

If Wisdom, God’s darling, still lifts voice to play
on this earth, and if (how could it be?)
she delights in mankind, may hunger hollow
this body to nothing but ear—which, night or day,
hears continually—

Muriel Nelson, author of Part Song and Most Wanted, lives near Seattle.

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Witness

There is nothing casual
about casualties of war.

It is serious business deciding
which of the wounded
get Medevac’d or left behind
on the battlefield.

It is not the ones
with the most severe of injuries
who are transported
elsewhere for treatment

but the ones with the best
chance of surviving them
that make the trip.

“There’s nothing we can do.”

Try telling this
to a fellow soldier
about their buddy in arms
whose last letter they have
safely tucked away

just in case.

Try telling their mother, father;
sister, brother; son, daughter;
or spouse

that someone else’s mother,
father, sister, brother, son, daughter
or spouse

was picked instead.

No one envies the Medic
who must make this choice.

But sometimes even the chosen
don’t survive their journey home.

Maritza Rivera, a Puerto Rican poet living in Maryland, is author of A Mother’s War, written during her son’s two military tours in Iraq.

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FIRSTS: “Lord, Why Did You Make Me Black?”

FIRSTS image by sharpner/shutterstock with illustration by Cathleen Falsani.
FIRSTS image by sharpner/shutterstock with illustration by Cathleen Falsani.

I was thirteen years old, a freshman in high school. This was my first mission trip – a week of working in an elementary school in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

Inner-city urban experience, meet private-school-raised girl.

School grounds within the walls of my church, meet bars and constant police surveillance.

The students we were going to serve looked a lot like me, but I could not feel further from their experience 

 

The Five Stages of Grief

Denial
This has nothing to do with blackness.
This has everything to do with blackness.

Anger
I could break things
but everything is broken.

Bargaining
Maybe I should have left
with the slave catchers.

Depression
I will die in this same skin
that I’m living in.

Acceptance
Cotton never left the plantation
only my mind did.

E. Ethelbert Miller is editor of Poet Lore magazine, director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University, and author of, most recently, The Fifth Inning.

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At Easter, Poetry Helps Us Remember

Photo via Getty Images.
Photo via Getty Images.

Poetry is language made material.

It presents us with objects and the world, yes, that is part of its materiality, but it also – and perhaps fundamentally – makes our very language into a thing, rather than simply a medium. Like remembering that you exist in time, and becoming aware of your temporality, poetry takes what we are always immersed in and says, Remember; become aware.

Thus it is like all art a meditative practice. You must slow down, quiet yourself, and actively receive – a strange gesture, perhaps paradoxical, but one that is, if nothing else, prayer. And so for Holy Week, I want to present four (mostly) contemporary poems that can direct meditation without limiting it, that can engage prayer in our physical existence and the existence of the Resurrection as event, that can slow one down, that can build sensual memory of the acts we do and life we live in constant remembrance of it, of Him.

Trading

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
                                                                —Wordsworth              

      Okay, for now, I give up business
to search for the private life of daffodils,
             tracking spring, longing to sink
into some sweet bull’s-eye
            of stillness. Beside the Schuylkill River
      iris fly in place, their frilly lips
            trembly, almost obscene.
I take off my shoes and wade,
      first one foot, then the other
             where the river bares its white teeth
in anger, biting the rocks. I think
             of turning into a tree, but instead
                            I pretend to be a heron, trying
for such beatitude and stealth
            that I might show the river
                            how to clear up its old
misunderstanding with itself, how to
        be one thing. Sometimes it’s possible
             to see God standing on the bank,
       one hand keeping the world’s atoms
             from flying apart, the other shading
                            his black eyes, gazing around in love
at his creation. I settle back
                            into my own shape.
The river quiets down. Dark’s rising,
     stars just coming out
             against a navy sky. It’s like seeing fire
      through a colander of darkness,
piercings in the lovely screen of night.


Jeanne Murray Walker, poet, playwright, and teacher, lives outside Philadelphia. Her collection New and Selected Poems will be published in 2012.

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