Poetry

Heaven's Back Door

Eschewing perfection, they knotted in a flaw,
the human signature and kink that made
the carpet whole -- not less perfect, but more
for the fraying edge, the bleeding dyes
that cloak their treasure in disguise,
an act of indirection modeled from on high:
as when the Deity said Be ...
and out crawled -- the twisted,
the crippled, the deformed.

Surely He was speaking metaphorically,
this fallen world a figure for some brighter,
truer Word; this knotted, knotty life
designed as time's poor foil
and fool, a school whose graduates
recoil beyond the mortal coil.
Or is the coil itself the thing
the Weaver meant
when He said Be ...?

The loops and tangles of our fate
no metaphors for straight, but how all lives
must spin and be unspun in arabesque,
curving first away, then back again
toward whence they came.
Error being the game perfection plays --
which, by seeming less, becomes the more.
Arriving at heaven's back door
by our flawless sense of indirection.

Richard Schiffman is a poet and writer who splits his time between New York City and New Mexico.

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Giving Voice

the heart dares the word dares the page
lest love stick in the throat of this pen,
and go untold

i remember my name
in your voice
echoing down the underground hall
beneath niebuhr place:
come, crack a jar of scotch
come for talk and a minted brew of tea
come to life. wake. arise.
(an ascent follows, sweet and rash)

somehow that calling
pipes through the kentucky hills retreat.
while i practiced sport, before smoke rose from detroit
your prayer with louis and circle
breached the walls to fall also on me.
summoning unbeknownst an answer.

(later, in a season of crushing dark
you opened for me the gatehouse door
there to walk and breathe and eat the psaltery
to face dread dreams and heal)

confess a thing:
even on this island now
the tabletalk of poet and keeper
hatches the seminary renegade.
that heady charismatic anarchy
revives as we speak
and our once fresh formation
turns, can it be, to eldering.

as toward the body politic
flesh of word presented,
burning with truth the charnel house lies,
this blood on pillars gashing gold vermillion,
or hammer nailing it to the door of church and state.
in consequence, this bravery with a difference
the holy ghost gone militant
free in the cuff, in the dock, in the yard

for all
for missives kited in and out
for the discipline of hope
for drinking the moon underground
for writing on the wall, against it
for bread in lotus fingers

all echoes in the heart at dusk
footfalls on the way beloved
this thanks untellable

Bill Wylie-Kellermann, a United Methodist pastor who serves St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, was mentored as a seminarian by Catholic poet and peace activist Daniel Berrigan, SJ.

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Immigration Theology from a Dreamer

'Statue of liberty' photo (c) 2011, Rakkhi Samarasekera - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

"I will call them my people, who were not my people. And her beloved, who was not beloved." (Romans 9:25 referencing Hosea 2:23)

Estranged, alienated, and removed; anyone living in an industrialized modern society in the 21st century would be able to define, or at least identify the sentiments of these words. Our time is one of mass communication and instantaneous access to knowledge. And yet our lives are too compartmentalized, increasingly divided, and our society reflects this. Indeed the existential writers of yesteryear were correct in diagnosing the iron cage that would befall us, ultimately leading to an eclipse of reason.

Good Friday: Praying in the Abyss

E. O. / Shutterstock
Photo via E. O. / Shutterstock

In Christian confession, Good Friday is the day of loss and defeat; Sunday is the day of recovery and victory. Friday and Sunday summarize the drama of the gospel that continues to be re-performed, always again, in the life of faith. In the long gospel reading of the lectionary for this week (Matthew 27:11-54), we hear the Friday element of that drama: the moment when Jesus cries out to God in abandonment (Matthew 27: 46). This reading does not carry us, for this day, toward the Sunday victory, except for the anticipatory assertion of the Roman soldier who recognized that Jesus is the power of God for new life in the world (verse 54). Given that anticipation, the reading invites the church to walk into the deep loss in hope of walking into the new life that will come at the end of the drama.

Beneath Me

Touched your hem
A thousand times
A face just
Beyond my sight
Space between
Grace, grief

A hand could
Cool blistered skin
A word might
Hush broken minds
And speak
Sweet relief

You broke my
Center of gravity
Left me
At the edge
My foot slipped
You turned

A torn veil
Face laid bare
Ground gave way
Beneath me
Death’s dust near
God, be not far

Sneha Abraham is a writer and editor at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

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Last Autumn Song

No, nothing,

she says, that is not God’s, and we approach
a crow ripping the entrails

of a truck-crushed fox, and the crow flees
our wheels, and the wind fills and tests the trees.

She says, I’m afraid I’ve believed
too much,

so we climb out,
throw shut the doors,

balance on tracks, huddle like tongues, like teeth
we chatter, we hum hymns, her purple skirts

go stiff with crusts of first frost, howl
the wind, the train, we embrace, the earth shakes,

boxcars bullet past, day eaten by dusk,
one hundred and sixteen we count, the crow

returns itself to beaky work, we call it Eliphaz.

In the book that broke the reader, she says,
the angel swung a sickle

over the curvy earth, curvy steel, then gathered
the vintage, then pitched it

into the great wine press. A small book, she says,
small and compact as a heart, as a trap.


Jesse Nathan, a Sojourners contributing writer, is an editor at McSweeney’s and author of Dinner, a chapbook of poems (Milk Machine). He lives in San Francisco.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2010
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