The Prayer of a Righteous Man
Down on his knees in
the shoulder gravel,
a man in a dark suit
beside a maroon
cockroach of a car,
one hand with Bible
held high, the other
of the AMC Pacer
his son gave him
after years of buses,
donkeys and moped
taxis, with only cacti
as witness to the
droplets of sweat
falling and marking
the chalky earth,
his mouth shouts
his prayer rises to
with the smoke
of burnt oil and
cracked head gasket,
an incense much
for his request
that the God, who kept
the Sidonian widow
in flour and oil
through the drought,
would fill his engine
with the power
that took Elijah
in a ball of fire
Ubi Caritas Deus Ibi Est
Where there is charity, there God is.
No charity in my taut face when,
my blood still warm with wine,
I hissed at my son for kicking
the pews; and none in the threats
I used when he dropped, careless,
the hymnal on my knee; no pity
in the way I dragged his small
wrists past the candles' smoking,
ruby-throated prayers, or in
the spiteful snap of the car seat.
But that night, when he called me from his bed
and I smelled the hot vomit on his quilt,
when I stripped the sheets, wiped clean
his face and changed his reeking shirt,
lying beside him till he slept,
then, like a rabbit, I crept beneath
God's wide skirts, and the reckless dogs
that chased me heeled and whined,
unable to follow into that warm domed
darkness where Love tucked me near
like a bell's clapper and my tongue
rang sweet, for once, to hear.
The poppy is only a husk now:
a latticed cup on a spire
tipped on its side
spilling curved seeds into my hand.
In its prime
it was plant silk and velvet:
a dark disk center
atop a green fertile bulb,
like a robe.
If I were small enough
I would slip like an earwig
through the desiccated spaces
into the hollowed pod;
I would be shriven—
I could wait
for the seeds to ripen
and the walls to thin,
cracking open slowly,
light increasing with the longer days,
the cup gives way on its own,
and the seeds pour out
as gently, as doubtlessly, as winter
King of Hush
King of hush, king of hidden things,
of blood pulsing through veins and arteries,
king of fresh yeast, and salt, and sprouting seed,
the dog-woman's crumbs, the lost son's ring.
Slave of the stick's thud and the whip's sting,
slave of fall on your face and slump in the street,
of whimper and grunt, slave of creeping things,
of blood leaking and pebbles biting into knees.
Lover fallen like a star, trampled but lighting
the woman who poured her tears on your feet,
men who reek of sardines, boat-pitch, and the sea,
minnow eggs and the first frog in the spring,
small voices, foolish things.
William Kelley Woolfitt
In Winter 2010
Lights coming on in windows;
windows lit all night long
suddenly dark --
He seems to sleep, head nested
in crossed arms
on the desk, as he listens
to the first raindrops
striking the window,
the faint roar of aircraft just
vanishing with moonlit trail
past the horizon,
the underlined phrase.
In Summer 2009
Here it is steadying
the heart, taking the air,
pedaling to the farmers'
market for sweet grape
tomatoes. In another
decade those calves will
be corded with muscle,
pumping pure energy,
taut hum and whoosh,
speed and swoop,
banking high and fast, language
a puddle you can't slow
down for, can't look
back to, don't care if
you never see again.
In Spring 2009
My Fellow Creatures Do a Better Job Than I
Everything shuts down in the hummingbird when it must endure
extreme cold in paradise, where there is always a price to pay.
To survive the icy nights it shuts down everything but brain,
heart, and liver, yields itself to the cold, and keeps a nugget
of life safe until dawn, when all systems are go. I'm not that good
in the scheme of things. My ticker insists on keeping the pace,
and extremities keep on pulsing, everybody wants to get into the act.
Hands and feet could freeze because of poor decisions at command
central. The wolf licks its chops, thinking of a warm, gutsy dinner.
Lucky hummingbird. Tiny perfect jewel, who can fail to be impressed
with your efficiency, your aesthetic lessons for us, your captured
sunlight, your mission to deliver nectar like a bee, pleasing the Deity.
Wolf, you can quickly take me now, an old body from the freezer.
Little things, however, may escape your notice. Small, warm, dazzling.
Mary Kennan Herbert
In Winter 2009
When Florence, sacred city of art,
was plagued with famine,
the holy bishop filled his floral gardens
with peas and beans to feed his people.
Who would not applaud his charity!
And yet, I think he could have saved
a bit of garden-room
for a flower.
For staving off starvation,
beauty too has power.
In Autumn 2008
What is Given
As though Moses himself
is standing high
upon this Rocky Mountain cliff
poised to proclaim
once again God's law,
cars and SUVs pull over,
line up along both sides
of the national park's
concrete curve, cameras
angling, people pointing,
awestruck by a simple white goat,
her beard and horns
marking her, unmoved
by all the commotion
hundreds of feet below.
She's just standing
where she's safe,
where her kid,
half-hidden by her side,
entices the crowd
that hungers for more
but must be satisfied, always,
with what is given.
Julie L. Moore
In Spring 2008
Thoughts on the Afterlife
Driving home Friday I pass a man
mowing the grass
in front of a small blue house
just north of the morturary--
a dead ringer for my dead
colleague, David, professor
and fomer chair
of the department of theology.
By the time I turn down Evans
I'm wondering what if it were
really him, an eminent liturgist
spirited back one hot afternoon
in August to be a procession
onto himself, straight row up
and straight row back, no music
but from the mower, no incense
but the smell of fresh-cut grass.
What a blessing it would be
to break a sweat again--
to dwell again in the ringing
of that inaudible bell when
the mower quits--it makes me
think the afterlife might not be
so bad if once in a while they
send us back do do some odd job.
Then I remember those refugees
from high school who come back
to watch the homecoming game
they starred in the previous year--
how lost they look in the twilight
beyond the end zone with no where
else they'd rather be.
Not Necessarily Another Angel Poem
I've been trying to bring the hummingbirds close,
Trying hard to train my eyes to see their wings as wings
Instead of movement, trying to be still enough to
See that quickly. Just in case. I'm meditating
On some flower-shapes and bright glass pears
Inverted so that sugar-water hangs suspended,
Singing out to needle-mouthed bits of colored speed,
"Come drink! Come lick the hovering sugar!
It's just your flavor! Just for you, you, you!"
And I've been thinking how to train myself to
Sit so still and think such sweetness that
The needle-tongued and blur-winged things
Might light on me.
Feast of the Epiphany
That town along the tracks where trains no longer stopped
had more bars than churches, but everyone kept Christmas
so on January sixth, a day most of us could not name,
volunteer firemen gathered at the playground to receive trees,
our own and those begged from neighbors. A branch
in each mittened hand, we'd drag them through the streets
to the place where men in helmets and thick, complicated coats
bent to bestow one new year's dime for each brittle tree
they'd take and hurl into the blaze. Now we might ask where
the mothers were--home, fixing dinner, fathers on the road--
but have I told this well enough for you to hear the conflagration,
hot and loud as a locomotive, for you to see the sparks spray
in great arrays against the night? There could have been a war
somewhere or mills closing, but those men--faces painted
with flames--did not resemble neighbors or uncles of school mates
that night. Walking, cold and tired, into the rest of winter,
a child could be light with dimes and lead tinsel in her pocket,
pine needles splintered in her snow boots' fleece.
Julia Spicher Kasdorf
In Summer 2007
I must learn
of egret stance
poised on a word
that lies beneath
the weaving current,
Nancy Compton Williams
In Spring 2007
Sabbath Poems: X
How can we be so superior to our forebears?
The truth will never be complete
in any mind or time. It will never
be reduced to an explanation.
What you have is only a sack of fragments
never to be filled: old bones, fossils,
pieces of writing, sprawls of junk.
You know yourself only poorly and in part,
the best and the worst maybe forgotten.
However you arrange the bits, authentic
and random, a fiction is what you'll have.
But go ahead. Gather your findings into
a plausible arrangement. Make a story.
Show how love and joy, beauty and goodness
shine out amongst the rubble.
In Winter 2007
The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.
And one word transforms it into something less or other--
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.
Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper--
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.
The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always--
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.
In Autumn 2006
The pebbly map of its thin skin,
the pith, the thick walls,
the tough little seeds.
It needs to be married
to sugar, white beach sands.
My mother and I are pretending
we're at the shore, sitting
on the patio of her nursing home.
A yellow raft sails off on a sea of cold tea--
The citrus light of summer
washes over the moonbeam
coreopsis, the lemon lilies,
sundrops, button headed daisies--
My mother is saying goodbye
In many little ways.
She has held her first great-
grandson; his skin's tender as a peach,
while her hands, gnarled by arthritis,
are trees left unpruned in an orchard gone wild.
O holy church of the lemon, chapel of wedges,
acidic juice, the slick shine--how the oil
clings to your skin, lingers on your fingers,
blesses the flesh of fish swimming in the plate,
kisses the filling of pie on the shelf,
remembers life is bitter,
remembers life is sweet.
In Summer 2006
Pillar of Salt
It's not rain but fire
in the clouds
to a hard quick anger
until the edges
of my eyes
peel back layers
of blue to red
the sky breaks into
the sand melts under
me. Don't look back
your voice burns
in the mountains
but I turn
to other gods.
Marci Rae Johnson
In Spring 2006
When I believe I have no needs I cannot fulfill,
When my lies sound like truth,
And when I've added yet another self
To my fabrications, I contemplate the life of a monk
On Mt. Athos who ties one end
Of a rope to a cypress, then loops the other
Around his chest and walks off the cliff where he lives.
Lord, you are my stronghold, he prays, dangling
A few hundred feet above the darker water
Where the bottom drops off. I suppose
It's a way of restoring the grace
Of insignificance, as he hangs between the sky
Where gulls spin around his head, held up by air,
And the sea where waves break apart on the rocks.
I like to think my thinking is a form
Of spiritual exercise, but I never reach that moment
Of unburdening when the monk feels at ease
(or so I wish), free now that he's tethered
Again to God, when he needs nothing
That is not provided by the sea floating up on air,
Its scent alone like the taste of the richest oysters.
No, for me, each day's fresh start points only
To the tree, the rope, the cliff-edge and sea.
And the going over, again and again.
In Winter 2006
You Went By
to the next minute
how to obey
in their natural
And neither did I eye
or breathe my
as you went by.
In Autumn 2005
The first day, I am late.
Metal on wood the latch falls
into that silent place.
I can't sit still the endless hour
on the hard gray bench,
just keep wondering am I home
or is this just another stop
to rest my shaken spirit
that slipped out of place--
when? Feels as long ago as when
that handmade glass was placed
to filter light into soft gray ripples
on the plain meeting house wall,
like tears that blur the face
you gaze and gaze at.
At last a man speaks. His face
from last night's dream: Grandfather
in an old house; big pot simmered on the stove
children offering me food from a full plate.
In Summer 2005