“He talked about persistence, a congruence of lives” —Seamus Heaney, “Belderg”
grey autumn skies spread memory round about,
heavy stands of barberry on raised tussocks
under oaks. a sleeping sentinel ringed round
by drumlins, moraine, blanketed by this small field
of blossoming clover slumbering and soft to the touch,
the rounding folds of his body breaking angular at the joints.
lostness clings like lichen, the pearled clouds pass by.
a maimed, wandering spirit on the move and planted
here for a thousand seasons between Bede and Ælfric
plying their monkish trade in scriptoria a world away.
great horned form straitened by the sepulcher white
of asphalt at the knees. his bed the rhyolite earth,
its clothes detritus of hazelnuts, double-serrate
leaves in fivefold clusters, horns wreathed in fern
and goldenrod, creeping jenny trailing and sneaking
through grassy allies spurting from fragrant soil.
a sole vulture glides overhead marking out his length,
and shocks of cool purple michaelmas daisy lay
on fernish ground while bovine sentries toss their heads
in the mud rollicking and mounting. his city mosquito-speckled
maples, cottonwoods dropping new decay to the earth
and the ribald smell of good dark humus.
o horned one, what words did they say to you?
what were their supplications?
whose vision did they follow to sculpt your
protean, graceful form, walking westward,
head to the halfway line of the world, feet
to its top? what lies within and beneath you, manmund, werhlæw?
iube Domine silentium fieri in aures audientium, ut possint intelligere et Deo benedicere
iube, Domine, benedicere
they will build you bucketful after bucketful
of soil lain over ash and cist gathered
at your heart in the midmorning gold—
not too much from one place, lest a canker
be left open, a breach in the topsoil.
the Lower Narrows visible in the gaps between maples
the cornfields emerging, fires have been burning,
charcoal left to marble atop multi-colored soils.
they lay you straight and solitary
to hold this place,
clusters of rock beneath your cranium,
the upper world made in earth relief,
and so we are, and so you stand until the earth
is no more.
iube, Domine, benedicere
—Day of the Dead/All Souls, 2018
Author Note: Man Mound is the only anthropomorphic effigy mound still intact in North America. Built by the Late Woodland peoples approximately a thousand years ago, it was preserved (after some damage from road building) from further damage by the Sauk County Historical Society and other local groups in 1908. If you would like to assist in the preservation of Man Mound, you can donate to the Man Mound Project here.
Jacob Riyeff (jacobriyeff.com, @riyeff) is a translator, poet, and scholar of medieval English literature. His primary interests lie in the western contemplative tradition and medieval vernacular poetry. He is a Benedictine oblate of Osage Deanery and lives on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side.
He gifts her an orchid. Says,
Three ice cubes a week
So as not to drown it.
Her joints sound of cracked ice
As she gingerly accepts
My lush pink blooms
Of wet lips open
For drink & good light.
The house has no sun.
Unpruned branches of wild flora
Cluster close to windows for stories.
I hunger for light.
He checks the soil for cracks,
Strokes my leaves. I feel
Exposed as parched sand
To the sin of neglect.
My petals fade & spill
Off the delicate threads of stem
Clamped to wooden crutches
With plastic grippers.
Over time, prayers for bloom
Of days past, of moons set.
I am set on the threshold for sun
To grow a new face,
But storms make me drunk.
My roots, thirsty worms
All tangled in a mass,
Smell of depleted dirt.
My roots have swollen to rot.
I am tossed into a small brown patch
Of dead daisies by the front door.
My skirt, green tatters.
His eyes sting of the dismay of bees.
My crooked stems stretch
Into exclamation of death. With the sigh
Of the scattered hive,
He lifts my breathless form
Keeping the grippers & crutches
That support my sagging stem.
My roots bestrew his hands.
I awaken in a new bed
Between a sunflower & a tomato plant.
My greenery, carefully arranged palms,
Open for breeze & brume.
Barbara Harris Leonhard is a writer, poet, and blogger. Her work appears in Phoebe, MD: Medicine and Poetry, Well Versed 2020, Spillwords; FREE VERSE REVOLUTION; Heretics, Lovers and Madmen; Go Dog Go Café; Silver Birch Press; Amethyst Review; Pillbaby.com; and Vita Brevis. She is the author of Discoveries in Academic Writing, which is based on her years of teaching English as a Second Language at the University of Missouri. Poetry Blog: extraordinarysunshineweaver.blog
Poetry Podcast: meelosmom.podbean.com
Chapter and verse gives
anchor chain to mum;
in storm her shipping hold, unbind him, Lazarus and Gerasene,
forging links, those who care,
the means to reach the chapel first,
cycle, after, pulled to house,
when dad says she’s in prison, bound
(though when and where are in dispute).
She tells me
in prose, but not well,
(the historicity in dispute)
poetry more suited,
to shape her tremors,
giving rhythm, even rhymed,
though read it best between the lines.
As waves from gunwale of the boat,
a parable more suited to her cause,
(then historicity in dispute)
or watching cushion, Gennesaret,
hope mob-rule may be calmed,
she would be sat, in her right mind.
Of cliff-edge swine that took her young,
and since joined herd
(the historicity in dispute),
she felt well-versed to pass it on.
Not best placed to choose the means,
chapter or verse, they both appealed,
but word art now become close friend
(no historicity to defend).
Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had over 150 pieces published by on-line poetry sites, including Amethyst Review, printed journals and anthologies. https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com/
Combining words, we do not give, but take,
from primal order. We can’t help ourselves.
Like storing grain hulled for the body’s sake,
we sift and winnow words to fill our shelves.
Book writing means subtraction from the One
that everything once was: it dissipates.
Book reading is the same. Look what we’ve done
and tell me this long word game elevates.
Addition is the shadow scribbles cast
down on a page of paper, bark, or stone.
Prolific, and their territory vast,
the two crossed minus signs can’t act alone.
They also need to scratch, to scrape away
like locusts on the last leaf of the play.
Dan Campion is the author of Peter De Vries and Surrealism and co-editor of Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song, a third edition of which was issued in 2019. His poetry has appeared in Poetry, Rolling Stone, and many other magazines. A selection of his poems titled The Mirror Test will be published by MadHat Press in February 2022. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
“Well, sometimes it’s a fine day, isn’t it? Sometimes the sky is blue. Sometimes the air is light, easy to breathe. And there is always tomorrow…” —Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight
May every window you pass let in
a light, Caribbean breeze, and on it
the voice of God floating
through a sentence you’ve written.
May every table you choose
be the best in the place,
with a fresh highball at your fingertips
and endless plates of food delivered
right before you ask for anything.
May you feel free to think of air,
if air is on your mind, or not think
at all. Dance and laugh and enjoy
the moon’s reflections on the sea,
tell stories about just that, and know
whatever hands touch you now
will be as gentle as you wish them to be.
Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English at Southeastern Louisiana University where he edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. Jack’s work has appeared in Pidgeonholes, The Shore, EcoTheo, The Hopper, Terrain, and other journals. His latest collection is No Brother, This Storm. He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.
Turns out you can leave pretty much anything behind,
even the things you’d never forget,
even the highlights, like
that plastic tub of divinity
you found at the back of the shelf—
the last one.
That, too, can be left at checkout.
Or maybe you left it in the makeup aisle
while pondering the many ways
you could offer yourself, shining,
to the world,
or else in produce,
while you inspected
that bag of mandarin oranges,
trying to determine their real color
underneath the bright netting.
Maybe you forgot it
while picking up print cartridges,
cursing the way they set words into the world
and with utter carelessness.
More likely, though,
you paid for your divinity in full,
bagged it neatly
with your own two hands
and then set it down, distracted,
forgetful of the sweetness
A violinist by training, Karen Bjork Kubin has been exploring the tensions and connections between music and language for as long as she can remember. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Spillway, Whale Road Review, Rock & Sling, Ruminate, Relief, and How to Pack for Church Camp, among other publications.
We are so Many
Linked in One
But only One can balance all
See the whole pattern
Know how it unfolds
And hold opposing energies
In harmony and equal
And thus the great dream of the
Earth comes into being.
Out of the darkness into light
Out of the chaos into patterns
Out of pulsation into purpose
And out of solitude into connection
The swirling origin is clothed within the dream of God.
Essence coalescing into a human outline
To Its image
And stretches out its rays of light
Its great desire – our Co-Creation
God was the One who held
Creation and destruction in a perfect balance
The opposites suspended in one trembling whole
And was not torn to shreds
There confidence and doubt weren’t severed
And every energy an equal to its yin
What will we do when faced with godlike powers
Or will the One who knew how to hold All
Return and save us?
Irina Kuzminsky is a widely published poet and writer; she is also a dancer, singer and composer, who has combined a life in the arts with a rigorous academic background including a doctorate from Oxford. Her passion has long been a quest for the feminine faces of the Divine across spiritual traditions https://irinushka.net
Over the past twenty years, I have become an admirer, a follower of sorts, of Catherine of Siena. I have sought out her images—that Roman nose, that stalk of lilies—in museums and churches. Once, chancing upon a portrait of her in the Art Institute of Chicago, I felt as if I’d sighted a Kardashian. In her native Tuscany, I later discovered, it’s harder not to see her: she’s everywhere, even on street corners. While in Florence a few years ago, on our way to catch the bus to Siena, my husband and I were stopped in our tracks by a sidewalk inscription in Italian and English: “Every step I have taken in my life has led me here, now.” It seemed personally significant, no doubt as it does to most passersby. Wanting to commit the location to memory, so Joe and I could come back and stand by these words again, we looked up at the street sign. We were on the corner of Saint Catherine of Siena Street. Of course we were.
That was not the first time I felt Catherine influencing, guiding, and, dare I say it, speaking to me. The most direct messages are from her writing: letters, prayers, and passages from Il Dialogo (The Dialogue), a theological masterpiece that chronicles her dialogue with God. Extraordinary in volume, considering that Catherine grew up illiterate. How much of it Catherine dictated versus what she managed to write in her own hand is immaterial when the words are as powerful as these: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” She’s bumper-sticker worthy with messages that are uncannily timely today: “We’ve had enough exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues – I see the world is rotten because of silence.”
No one could ever accuse Catherine of staying silent. When something needed to be said or done, Catherine committed herself—mind, body, soul, and voice to the task. Some 650 years ago, when the average woman had no public voice and literally belonged to men—father, brother, and inevitably spouse—Catherine singularly belonged only to herself and to God. When she spoke out, counseling princes and popes alike, she neither waited for nor relied on any human authority. She attracted followers and the occasional accuser. Through it all she never lost her voice or her faith. She was Catherine, the original badass.
The Badass Trailblazer
The word badass has flexed its biceps and swaggered its way into widespread usage, conjuring up images of super-fit, hypercompetitive, butt-kickers. The badassery I prefer connotes being values-driven and fearless in one’s display of compassion, courage, and care for others. Jim Taylor, Ph.D., writing on the Psychology Today blog, explained: “A badass is someone who does the dirty jobs; the jobs that other people don’t want to do—for example, our troops and inner-city teachers. A badass does what needs to be done, no matter how difficult it is, without complaint or need for fanfare.” Jen Sincero, in her bestselling You Are a Badass, describes this mission as showing up “as the brightest, happiest, badassiest version of yourself, whatever that looks like to you.” True badassery, therefore, is all about being bold and brave and, most important, showing up in the world to do what you care most deeply about. Catherine of Siena was all over that centuries before it became fashionable.
Born in 1347, Catherine Benincasa was the twenty-third child (though some say the twenty-fourth, but really who’s counting) of Jacopo and Lapa. At a young age, she decided she would never marry and instead would dedicate her life to God. When her parents insisted that she marry her widowed brother-in-law, Catherine cut off all her hair in protest. Her mother decided to teach Catherine a thing or two about the consequences of such stubbornness by making her the family servant. Instead of breaking her spirit, the experience thrilled Catherine, who reveled in the solitude and sacrifice. Winning in the end, Catherine joined the Dominican community, not as a nun, but as a mantellata (a kind of adjunct, attached to the order, but as a lay person). Instead of being cloistered away, Catherine went out into the world, tending to the poor, the sick, and forgotten. She didn’t stop there, becoming an emissary of peace between feuding families and warring Italian states.
When Pope Gregory XI, the last of the French popes, was holed up in Avignon, she told him to return himself and the papacy to Rome. In a letter to Gregory, Catherine wrote: “I hear that these people are trying to frighten you, saying you will be killed, in order to prevent your return. I, however, on behalf of Christ crucified, tell you, dear holy father, not to be afraid for any reason whatever.” It strikes me as both ironic and revelatory that Catherine assumes the authority of speaking “on behalf of Christ” when addressing the pope, who (like all popes) occupies the role of Christ’s representative in the world (or so the church says). Despite her influence, Catherine never assumed power or lusted after privilege. Instead, her badassery kept her on the front lines in the humble servitude of choice. In June 1374, when Catherine left Florence to return to her hometown of Siena, she found the place seized by famine and plague, which claimed family members and neighbors. Unafraid of disease or death, Catherine plunged into the care of others, recognizing that this was what she was supposed to do—her time, her mission.
When Pope Urban VI sent for Catherine to help to unify the church and prevent further schism, Siena longed to keep their hometown holy woman close by and tried to dissuade her from making the long journey to Rome. Catherine went anyway, accompanied by followers, the last such sojourn she ever made. By early 1380, she had weakened and became sick, then died on April 29th at the age of thirty-three. Her body was buried in Rome, but followers later opened the grave and made off with her head, bringing it back to Siena where it is still on display.
Eye-to-Eye (Sort of) with Catherine
On our trip to Italy a few years ago, my husband and I traveled to Siena where in an echoing edifice we sat side-by-side on wooden chairs and stared at Catherine’s nearly 650-year-old mummified head. By this time, Joe and I were used to seeing relics displayed in churches: little bits of one saint or another. But here was Catherine’s entire head, draped in a white veil and glimpsed through the grill of an oversized reliquary on a side altar. (And with a huge sign blaring, “No photographs!” as if shouting in the silence—the objective being to drum up postcard sales in the giftshop.) I stared at her visible front teeth and found the whole experience rather flat and, frankly, a little weird. We visited the Benincasa home, tricked out into a marble-encased shrine (“No Photographs!”) and left. Catherine, at least for me, was not in residence that day.
That evening, I asked myself what I had expected. That she was going to speak? Well, yes. It had happened, sort of, a dozen or so years earlier on a trip to Montreal where Joe and I came across a church covered from nave to vestibule and around every pillar with portraits of saints, both familiar and obscure. In the far corner was Catherine of Siena. Joe snapped several photos and printed them when we got home. On each photo of Catherine was a pink mark shaped like an abstract hourglass or maybe a chalice on the white apron of her habit. It was low, where her womb would be. On all the digital images of her and every print, the mark is clearly visible. Was that on the portrait at the church? Surely, we would have noticed. If not, what does that mean about our photo?
I decided that it’s a sign—but of what? Given its position, the womb is obviously connected with gestation, in much the same way that a cocoon connotes a butterfly-in-the-making. Both take time and a leap of faith. On my writer’s journey, patience has been a mainstay. This pink mark, on its surface, encourages me with the belief that with patience and persistence come the payoff. But to keep it at that is to trivialize Catherine into a patient cheerleader. Pondering further, I learned ancient traditions honored the divine feminine and the sacred womb. Of the seven chakras or energy centers of the body, the womb chakra is considered the seat of spirituality for both women and men. So, if I choose to take this as a sign, it should be a spiritual one. Believing I might be on to something, I turned to her letters, more than 400 of which remain. In one, Catherine chastises an elderly widow for her vanities and frivolous life, then concluded: “Please understand that I would rather do something for you instead of just talking.”
To my modern mind (and given my share of vanities and frivolities), Catherine’s advice to the widow hits me as austere. Yet, instead of being put off by it, I am drawn to her conviction to “do…instead of just talking.” Those words ignite the Catholic-turned-Episcopalian-wannabe-mystic in me. Recalling the message from that Florentine street corner, I acknowledge that every step has taken me here, now. I’m on a mission to find a mission.
As I look at that photo, now framed on my desk, I take a quick inventory of the tools at my disposal. I have my words. I can write about what I deeply believe to be true: that each of us, no matter how ordinary, can do extraordinary things in our own ways, and in the process experience a personal and intimate connection with God. This is what I’ve learned from Catherine’s example and, in far more humble ways, in my own life. This, I decide, is my mission as I take baby badass steps behind Catherine. I am compelled to write about people (real and fictional) who are thrust into the extraordinary amid the most ordinary, and in doing so to give courage and hope to others.
Yes, this is what I can do. And so, I must.
Patricia Crisafulli, M.F.A., is an award-winning writer of both fiction and nonfiction. She received a Master of Fine Arts degree (fiction concentration) from Northwestern University, where she received the Distinguished Thesis Award for her novel-in-progress—a mystery that revolves around an artifact of Catherine of Siena. Patricia is also a Pushcart Prize nominee for the grand prize-winning short story she wrote for Loon Magic, the 2019 anthology from TallGrass Writers Guild. She a is also the founder and publisher of www.FaithHopeandFiction.com, an e-literary magazine.
It is time.
The sky hands its robes of white
to the Sabbath Queen.
She drifts through the window.
With covered head,
her mortal sister
blesses her coming
with arms extended
over lit candles
that follow the Sabbath’s
filling the room,
sanctifying the home.
like small animals in the night
soothed by her song
that rocks the hold of the house.
This is the time
for quiet praise of creation.
This is the time
release the burden
of the week’s past—
geese taking off
swift in flight
With a clear breath
we usher in the day
when we rest
in the quiet spirit
of the Scripture,
listen to our thoughts
glide like swans
staying close to shore.
Janet Krauss, who has two books of poetry published, “Borrowed Scenery,” Yuganta Press, and “Through the Trees of Autumn,” Spartina Press, has recently retired from teaching English at Fairfield University. Her mission is to help and guide Bridgeport’s young children through her teaching creative writing, leading book clubs and reading to and engaging a kindergarten class. As a poet, she co-directs the poetry program of the Black Rock Art Guild.
I made quick cuts through the headstones, crazed maneuvers in a little utility vehicle that should have been enough to lose anyone, thinking “What the hell am I doing driving through a cemetery like this? She can’t actually be chasing me,” not anticipating the woman in her white SUV could corner so sharply. She managed to pin me under the chapel’s sheet metal overhang, threw her Chevy into park on the asphalt driveway, and flung open the driver side door all to balance on her running boards shouting “I am chasing you down!” My stomach churned with the realization I would rather be paranoid than this to be real, the mantra ticking in my brain “Onemoretime, onemoretime and I’m going to completely lose it on someone, even though this is consecrated ground.” She balanced there demanding to know where the wreath was from her son’s grave along the timber where the blooming jonquils themselves declared it was time for the wreath to go. I had just conceded to the insistence of those yellow bastards this very same April morning since the grass was dying under the weight of now-brittle branches decked in sun bleached red ribbon and naked of their rust dry needles.
“I took it off a few hours ago because it is killing the grass, since it’s April and I thought you weren’t going to pick it up,” I explained with caution. This place is a minefield where I detonate emotions as cemetery sexton, tearing open hearts with shrapnel unleashed by missteps I can’t anticipate, but honestly what suggests I could expect a woman to become so angry about the Christmas wreath taken off of her son’s grave the week before May? She corrects me: it couldn’t have been killing grass as she doesn’t allow any grass to grow there, rather she works the ground up a bit to plant habaneros. I asked “Peppers?” certain, so certain, that I misunderstood though her glare confirmed my idiocy, acknowledging “Yes, habanero peppers.”
I laughed, heartbroken now to think she took it for mockery when it was really horror I could only follow with “No, no you’re not planting habeneros on your son’s grave because I will mow them over,” not as a threat, but the closest I could come to reaching through her grief. I know this phrase flicks the switch in your brain accusing me “Who Are You to Tell Anyone How to Grieve a Child?” and all I will say is “Who are you tell me ‘Who Are You to Tell Me’ when I already know?”
So let’s stop with this line, because we are going off the track and if there is anything I want it is to reach you trapped in grief as a crab in the wrong sized shell without which you are naked in a way God never intended please don’t stop listening I swear I understand how that shell is integral to who you are but your shape changes and as a hermit crab from time to time will leave its shell behind momentarily to move into a new one that accommodates changes I beg you let your shape change because if I laugh and tell you I am going to mow the habaneros off your son’s grave yes it is in part to comply with the rules we have posted near the cemetery entrances explicitly stating no plantings of any kind are allowed but also it is the closest thing I can come to promising I care enough not to dismiss you though in all honesty it would be easier to take the heat from other families that get angry when there are exceptions because I swear onemoretime, onemoretime and I’m going to lose it on someone even though this is consecrated ground we creep along, this mine laden beach the ocean of eternity laps with low and high tides of mourning while light glistens off individuals moving shell to shell, some in such a way you see them as breathtaking masterpieces of God’s grace you want to pick up, cradle in your palms to share with others, marveling at them for their own mystery while holding them forth as a sign of hope, most often because they have hope in their own hard-won way others quickly dismiss as too easily gained though I know better, learning from them as I watch through the seasons how they love those the gravedigger and I help them bury.
Ann Thomas lives in Iowa. Her narrative nonfiction has appeared in Dappled Things, Image Journal, and is forthcoming in Ruminate.