Prayer of Doubt
the ritual of thinking about you, fighting
over and with ideas of you is the pattern
of blood and scribblings and passings
all my life; my doubts, denials, dejections,
disappointments, distractions, delusions
with you are the weaving myth of my story.
You are my contradiction and my confusion;
you are the question that keeps asking.
I think of you and my mind is a circus, a carnival,
a charnel house of memories, a feeling in the gut;
I have doubted you, I have been doubt.
There was a self-surprising, really absurd,
dawning in the harrowing heart of any despair
while you harpooned me and I screamed.
Is doubt my cross? A thorn in my fleshly soul?
Doubt is the prayer, doubt the necessary nativity
for seeing the simplest thing; doubt is itself
the dying of doubt, the strange birth of faith
through the dark canal of doubt’s density where
new belief and old doubt are a lover’s quarrel.
God. You are my doubt and consume my doubt;
my doubt is everything, nothing and neither
for You absorb my doubt and absorb me
in my every act of pure or murky abandonment
to You, for You are my absolution and sole hope.
Alan Altany, Ph.D., is a septuagenarian college professor of religious studies. He’s been a factory worker, swineherd on a farm, hotel clerk, lawn maintenance worker, small magazine poetry editor, director of religious education for churches, truck driver, novelist, etc. He published a book of poetry in 2022 entitled A Beautiful Absurdity: Christian Poetry of the Sacred. His website is at https://www.alanaltany.com/.
The Garden of Earthly DelightsThree Miltonic Sonnets, After BoschEden
The newborn world is all aswirl with beasts
Obedient who, as God specified,
Have duly fruitful been, have multiplied
And claim laid to the garden west to east.
Their prowl for food and flesh knows no surcease;
With feral instinct so preoccupied
(As mammals munch in happy fratricide)
They barely note the human arrivistes.
Amid this world of roving appetite
The pair, their souls as naked as their skin,
Their Maker’s grace in twofold flesh distill.
Yet Adam, as his eyes first take Eve in,
First knows the trenchant stirrings of free will;
God holds her wrist, perhaps a bit too tight.
For while these two delight,
His biting eyes as yet make out the end
Whereto this all too earthly flesh will tend.
It already impends:
Off to the side where one can hardly see,
An apple sits that’s fallen from a tree…
The Garden of Earthly Delights
All nature is distorted now, perverse,
As frenzy wanton far and wide presides.
In endless circles dry desire rides,
And fruit grown monstrous cannot slake the thirst.
Gigantic birds and fish are interspersed
With mythic beasts and forms that have decried
All beastly nature, God’s designs defied.
Yet human nature’s clearly all the worse.
For once these rutting things had living souls
Subsumed in God but severed now by lust
Insatiable they somehow call delight.
In endless permutations they adjust
Themselves to unleashed pleasure’s strangest rites
And Paradise is now a Grand Guignol:
A garish rigmarole
Of human impulse twisted into knots,
All dignity rejected or forgot
As near the center squats
With head to ground some soul within the throes
Of sodomy inflicted with a rose.
A ravaged city’s belching smoke ingrains
A livid sky whose onyx clouds are tried
By stunted rays like searchlights misapplied,
For search in such a darkness is in vain.
A bloody lake has taken on its stain
From corpses of the endless genocide;
Another’s frozen solid, vitrified
By cold despair, benumbed by human pain.
A tortured orchestra the ears beset—
Someone is crucified upon a lute;
A horn is muted by a severed limb—
While fore the Lord of Evil Absolute
Devours corpses and ad interim
Excretes them into some hell deeper yet.
Delight turned to regret
Eternal is the fate of human flesh
That thought it could from godly soul unmesh
Itself and thus refresh
Unendingly the crest of pleasure’s swell—
A wave that breaks upon the shores of Hell.
Jeffrey Essmann is an essayist and poet living in New York. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, among them Dappled Things, the St. Austin Review, America Magazine, U.S. Catholic, Pensive, Grand Little Things, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and various venues of the Benedictine monastery with which he is an oblate. He is editor of the Catholic Poetry Room page on the Integrated Catholic Life website.
Fantasia on a Good Old Hymn
Any day the Spirit sends could be the one
that otherworldly ladder, Jacob’s, touches down
like a slant of sunshine through rain.
There might be angels ascending, who would
make way, or lend a hand, as this time
it is my heart, and too many rungs to count.
My house recedes below into a village,
village to dots on undulant landscape, terrain
a mere patch of the quilt. Higher, higher…
Did I love enough to be called away up here?
Or am I just a child the universe
let sit on its lap awhile and listen to stories?
Careful not to look down, will I reach the top?
Will I find a cloud-swept meadow,
understand at last what the larks are saying?
Russell Rowland writes from New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, where he has judged high-school Poetry Out Loud competitions. His work appears in Except for Love: New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall(Encircle Publications), and “Covid Spring, Vol. 2” (Hobblebush Books). His latest poetry book, Wooden Nutmegs, is available from Encircle Publications.
The Pastor and His Reconciliation
Death is giving a party in the fields.
Our priests point out the spot
in the tall weeds. They step forward
in their white albs like lab coats, some
days peaceful as doves. On black-cloak days
they perch like fat crows on the altar.
Those days, death is a punishment, and death’s
party, a wake. Their sermons are true as
harpoons to the guilty heart; then they wait
in confessional boxes with their bandages,
antiseptic, and laudanum chants. On
the dove days they give you purity
and unflagging, full-span hymns. You
forget your invitation, neglect your rsvp.
Your heart, like air in a fountain, rises
up in white pearls to bate your breath.
Rose Bedrosian received her B.A. in Literature from UC Santa Barbara, where she edited Spectrum and won The Frank W. Coulter Prize. A winner of The Independent poetry competition, her work appears or is forthcoming in Verse-Virtual, San Pedro River Review, Beatnik Cowboy, and Pembroke Magazine, among others.
oboe in the morning
elegant architecture well-dressed
dog walkers joggers benches trees
cars speed by on the highway
New Jersey’s tall white buildings
on the other side of the river
small birds hop in a budding tree
a man warms up on his oboe
sheet music on his stand
the sweet sound mixed with
the early morning light and air
brought a stillness an open clarity
a balance I’d been seeking
the vibrations coming from
his double reed instrument
ran through me
for a time there
seemed to be no more
me or him or them
no more separation
Nora Howard’s interests include people, language, dreams and the mysterious events of life. In her visual art and in her poetry she focuses on the fleeting moment, the passage of time and human interactions. She was raised in Greenwich Village and has spent most of her life living in NYC.
It is not simply
For evening breeze,
Dark pond, lustrous inky
Sky, hum of crickets,
Cool grass, evensong
Of creatures, that she
Emerges. It is the lure
Of soul awakening,
Drawing her into depths
Visible only at night. She
Roams moon-soaked fields,
Slips in the swirling river.
Awakened from death,
She finds herself
Where she started—
On bloody knees, halfway
Between dusk and dawn.
Prasanta Verma‘s poetry has been published in Relief Journal, Barren Magazine, Bramble Lit Mag, and is upcoming in Without a Doubt, a New York Quarterly anthology. Verma tweets @VermaPrasanta, and feel free to stay connected with her by signing up for her newsletter at www.prasantaverma.com.
In a stranger’s yard, an obese squirrel in a maple tree
nibbles a peanut. From an icy sidewalk I count
thirteen shells, pale figure-eights someone placed
on a platform before him. It’s Thanksgiving. Soon
I will fete and feast, sating myself as easily as Fat Buddha
here. I plan to bypass the arugula salad
with cranberries and pecans I made, pile my plate
with gouda and peanut-butter pie. I read that Fat Buddha
was a wandering monk who carried candy in a sack.
He forecasted the weather, credited as a small miracle.
According to the soft batting in the sky, we may soon
have snow and if we do, my prize should be a small statue
of this squirrel to remind me of his blissful disregard
of Body Mass Index. I remember a boyfriend who told me,
your belly looks like the Buddha at the Chinese diner.
I breathe through the sting still festering after five years,
tuck feelings away one by one into a quilt-covered bassinet.
Let them rest. It was a blessing! says the gem
I sometimes see at the bottom of my muddy moods. Fat Buddha,
Laughing Buddha, was one much loved and welcomed
everywhere. Who loves this squirrel? Who loves me?
The quilted sky dissolves into weightless flakes, closes in.
Who tames us with such abundance? I am embraced.
Margaret Coombs is a poet and retired librarian from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, USA, the city of her birth, located on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Her first chapbook, The Joy of Their Holiness, was published in 2020 by Kelsay Press under the name Peggy Turnbull. She now uses her birth name as her pen name. Recent poems have appeared in Silver Birch Press, Bramble, Three Line Poetry, and Verse-Virtual. She occasionally blogs at https://peggyturnbull.blogspot.com/.
Hummingbird with Monarda Blossom
Hover, flick then flick, in taut midair,
Inhaling nectar from each blossom tube,
A pearly string of moments here and now.
You’re motionless above Monarda and
(despite the widespread rumors you have wings)
I see two blurs of gossamer. Nothing moves
And everything hovers, for just a beat,
The whole world too, which holds its ragged breath
And stops to look. You can count on one hand
The moments like that, but when they occur
There’s no question what must be done and felt:
Drop everything. Pay homage. Watch in awe.
A spiritual director, bigender person, and quasi-hermit, John Backman has had personal essays published in Catapult, Amethyst Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Tiferet Journal, and Sufi Journal, among other places. For the past two years John has been named a top 10 creative nonfiction finalist in the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards.
There are secrets hidden in
of movement, of letting go
the secret web that holds
I know how to feel it,
to release restrictions
and invite fluidity.
I can teach you
this visceral language,
how to breathe into your pelvis
the ways of knowing your
held tight into the body
and letting her go on her way.
You and I are done
living someone else’s life.
It doesn’t mean we forget them,
their fight to survive,
it means we can separate
who lived whom
in this body cradling our souls.
Jennifer Rodrigues currently lives on the sacred Powhatan land of Fairfax, VA. She works as a certified yoga therapist, is a Reiki healer, military spouse, mother to a creative daughter and a black cat named Miss Yvonne. She has been published in The Muleskinner Journal, tiny frights.
This attic broods Dickensian cold,
the spiders moan about the frost.
Her little voice wants to be loud,
be heard above the creeping gloom.
Like a soprano in chapel air
rising to hush the cobweb doubt.
A hostess flees from her abode,
the ballroom of a Danube tune,
that weightless waltz of gowns. Her prayer
in flame warming the garret ghost.
A little voice soars to the clouds.
Joy whispers in shivers of spiders.
Phil Wood was born in Wales. He studied English Literature at Aberystwyth University. He has worked in statistics, education, shipping, and a biscuit factory. He enjoys watercolour painting, bird watching, and chess. His writing can be found in various places, including: Ink Sweat and Tears,The Dirigible Balloon, The Wild Word.