Saint Joseph of Cupertino
neither cogent nor lost,
a breeze wedged out of the glooms.
Of feather blood, hollow bone,
beaten brainless by seashore wings
soaring between light and mist,
an Easter bell pealing
a requiem to reason.
Throughout the day
he paddles clumsily,
soon billows like a sail
without keel or rudder
to hang onto
for lack of gravity.
He has few words for himself.
He blows smoke rings
from an insubstantial mind.
Never high enough go
the unanchored birds or
night’s orbed highways.
Rising on currents of sudden feeling,
along widening geodesics
departing for good
from the confines of himself.
Stephanie V Sears is a French and American ethnologist (Doctorate EHESS, Paris 1993), free-lance journalist, essayist and poet whose poetry recently appeared in The Deronda Review, The Comstock Review, The Mystic Blue Review, The Big Windows Review, Indefinite Space, The Plum Tree Tavern, Literary Yard, Clementine Unbound, Anti Heroine Chic, DASH, The Dawn Treader, The Strange Travels of Svinhilde Wilson published by Adelaide Book 2020.
Summer at Poetry Camp of the Lord, with Petroglyphs
Santa Fe, Summer 2019
The prickly pear must be prepared properly Opuntia:
genus cactus. Paddle nostle thorns & the shape of a hand
we must use to carve our names into the rock, the words
that form a poem hiding in the ridge & cleft.
Eat the flesh both sweet & strange subtle
on our tongues & charred with the fire of inscrutable speech,
which each of us must interpret in a song or prayer.
Magic, the way the wine loosens us to say
what we say in the shack the black night,
how our mouths pause, inhabit
the delicate cat-tail the pine needles simmering
to a fragrant tea & the unexpected meat
found on a trail. It’s hard to imagine all the animals
& plants we might eat. Bodies breaking for us.
In the dark we proclaim each death until the sun
comes slowly behind the mountain in the morning,
illuminating each face as if it were our own.
Marci Rae Johnson works for Legible.com and as a freelance editor. Her poems appear in Image, The Christian Century, Relief, The Other Journal, Main Street Rag, Rhino, Quiddity, The Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Louisville Review, and 32 Poems, among others. Her most recent book was published by Steel Toe Books.
In her first poetry collection, Animals I Have Killed, Lauren K. Carlson delivers poems that incarnate rare and ordinary alchemies of biology and consciousness. Through deft deployment of metaphor and syntactic sleight of hand, Animals I Have Killed bears witness to daily transformations of animal into meat, human into animal, and God into word into night. In Carlson’s hands, rifles become sentences, children become windows, a young woman becomes the unopened mail of her recently departed grandmother. What’s more, through the keen eye of our poet/witness, each embodiment reveals its tethers to all the others; we are given to see not only the lit stage of the theatre, but the puppeteer overhead, past and future scenes waiting in the wings, our own faces aglow in the darkened house and all the strings.
Consider Carlson’s startling title, Animals I Have Killed. Grammatically, the phrase implies the book’s subject is animals, and certainly this is true. As it happens the poet resides on a family farm replete with goats, chickens, dogs, and numerous wild creatures. But Carlson’s title is complicated by the startling adjectival declaration “I have killed” which immediately shifts the gravitational power from the “animals” to the “I” that killed them. With these four words, Carlson enacts the violence whereby an animal is extinguished by an “I”, and, in so far as we consider such acts of violence to be the “savage” domain of animals, Carlson concedes to being an animal. Indeed, the simultaneous transfiguration of animal into weaponized “I” and “I” into an animal at the mercy of another is a recurring motif.
Take the poem “Migrations” which begins, “of silver air the starlings/ under thunderheads/ tumbling as one/the flock chasing storms”, then startles with “this swoop is not a doom”. Certainly, the slippery syntax which constructs a parallel between the birds in flight and the storm is a kind of magic. The phrase “tumbling as one” might refer to the flock of many birds, or the collect of thunderheads, or the flock and the clouds together made one. Stretched across the page, with ellipses between phrases, the words both semantically and visually represent both birds and clouds, each fragment occupying its own piece of sky. The empty space around the fragments becomes the firmament stitching them together, dissolving distinction between, so that when we arrive at “this swoop is not a doom” we are astonished by the sudden appearance of a threat the speaker claims is absent. Doom may not be this swoop, but it might be the next. At the close of the poem, the speaker declares “a night with no light” to be “what else but a room/ a womb/ the newborn once home”. Suddenly we understand the heightened awe and terror of the speaker beholding the sky when, in addition to the migrations of weather and birds we consider the migration of an infant, of one’s own child, from womb into wide world and from hospital to home.
In Carlson’s poems metaphor is not simply a mechanical device, but an enactment of spiritual transubstantiation. We see this in “Mary Teaches Me the Sacrament” which begins:
When I tell my son
our neighbor died this morning
he weeps at eight
his emotions hovering near the surface
The poem may be read in several ways, both horizontally across the page and vertically down, one column at a time. This formal play, whereby multiple readings coexist and complicate each other, embodies a metaphysical revelation. Reading across the columns horizontally, we understand the speaker is telling her son that their neighbor has died; the son, eight years old, weeps. The title, with its invocation of Mary and the Christian faith, complicates this reading as we may interpret the word neighbor to be a stand-in for Jesus, and the telling to be that of the Easter story. If we read each column vertically other meanings emerge. The second column is particularly resonant: my son/ died this morning/ at eight. We may understand the speaker to be Mary the mother of Jesus, recalling her son’s death (at eight A.M). But from the first reading we understand the primary speaker–to whom Mary teaches the sacrament– is also a mother, and as a mother, how can she not empathize with Mary’s loss? In these first few lines, not only do we witness several transfigurations– the present day mother into Mary, mother of God, the deceased neighbor into Jesus, Jesus into the speaker’s own eight year old son (to name a few), but the choices of interpretation which become the responsibility of the reader, transforms the reader from passive witness to active agent of creation, culpable for the transformations they conceive.
Indeed, agency and grace walk hand in hand throughout Animals I Have Killed. In the semi-confessional title poem, the poet meditates not only on the particular animals she has killed (do the goats we take to the butcher count?), but the reason and method of death: the rooster burned alive for attacking my son. In these poems the poet reveals the dirt on her hands, washes them in real, coagulating blood. Such revelations invite readers to consider their own frailty in the wake of all that is beyond our kin alongside our terrifying power in the lives of others.
The alchemical magic of Animals I Have Killed calls us to our better selves, not only through deft deployment of a poet’s craft, but through a pilgrim’s devotion to the gifts of creation– the starling and the storm, the hunger and the meat. It leaves this reader hopeful, curious and longing for more.
Jennifer Sperry Steinorth’s books include Her Read A Graphic Poem (2021) and A Wake with Nine Shades (2019) from Texas Review Press. A poet, educator, interdisciplinary artist, and licensed builder, her recent work has appeared in Black Warrior, Cincinnati Review, Michigan Quarterly, Missouri Review, Pleiades, Plume, Rhino, TriQuarterly and elsewhere.
Yom Kippur 5781
I have cancer.
Daven* in the infusion room.
Power port accessed.
Blood tubes filled.
A soul with a pole: fluids, Benadryl, magnesium, Erbitux.
Lean back, heated recliner, warm blanket.
The holiest day of the year.
Worship on my cell phone.
Rabbi, Cantor chant into silence.
An aide brings chicken soup.
My fast, forbidden.
Rabbi delivers her sermon.
A spoonful for each reflection.
A sin reversed like failed intentions.
Pound the chest. Repent.
The man in the adjacent cubby, short of breath, keens.
Nurses take his vitals, wash his head with a cold cloth.
His voice cracks with pain, fear.
Let me go home. Acooing, calm reply,
You have a fever. It may be an infection, it may be the chemo. They’ll order tests in the E/R. Get this under control.
I imagine––one nurse massages his shoulders,
another holds his hand, a third readies his bags.
The crash cart rolls by, parked out of his view.
EMT’s arrive. A gurney with its own pole.
The Yizkor* service.
the tom-tom for the liturgy,
absent from Temple.
I cannot offer tissues,
scared of what could make me cry.
* Daven: Chant prayers
* Yizkor: Remembrance (Memorial) Service for the dead
When not writing about rock ’n roll or youthful transgressions, Richard Fox focuses on cancer from the patient’s point of view drawing on hope, humor, and unforeseen gifts. He is the author of four poetry collections and the winner of the 2017 Frank O’Hara Prize. – smallpoetatlarge.com
The Hollybrook Harp
Boxed in deep sedimented paint and peat
and time, you are the willowed window
through which we listen darkly.
Phantom strain above intersecting joints
you wire us into the dim reverberations
of sustaining songs and sorrows.
Cassocked in unremarkable layers
black light alone illuminates your depths
and bares your tattooed shoulder.
Absence is windowed by your frame.
Still, bog priestess, it is you
that moves the air to music.
Robert Stewart Heaney is a teacher and writer. He is the author of three scholarly books and editor and contributor to numerous collections on religious thought, history, and the intersections of art and transformative action. Originally from Ireland, he holds a D.Phil from the University of Oxford and lives and works in the USA.
Over the course of 2017,
Mary Margaret Sellers –
named after both
her grandmothers (neither
of whom was a woman of repute) –
a women’s running shoe blue (the left one),
a pair of elephant salt and pepper shakers,
the change out of a “Ride This Buckin’ Bronco”
machine in front of a 7-11,
her copy of The End of the Affair back
from her younger brother (Jacko),
thirteen pink lawn flamingos,
her mother’s Amazon Prime account password,
a taxi from the elderly woman
who was on her way to the bank,
half a tank of gas (mostly accidently),
$2.38 in coins out of a fountain,
a pair of denim overalls that turned out
to have a rip
in the rear.
Mary Margaret confessed
the stealing (along with quite a few
other sins) at the Oratory of St. Juniper
in Mission Park, NC.
In the confessional, the priest –
middle-aged, graying, but not yet tired
of offering undue mercy –
asked Mary Margaret to close her eyes
sitting in front of her.
How is he looking at you?
What is in his eyes?
Mary Margaret left haunted
by what she saw in the light
of that stained-glassed room.
Time did not let her thefts go
Mary Margaret died
at the age of 28
from pancreatic cancer.
She was buried in the graveyard
of the Oratory whose priests often find
“borrowed” objects atop her gravestone:
a too-small yellow raincoat,
a weather-beaten copy of Brideshead,
a broken bike lock,
a chipped diner mug,
the occasional candle from the Oratory’s offertory table.
St. Mary Margaret’s devotees celebrate
her feast day
by leaving loose change
on the window sills
of their neighbors.
Mallory Nygard lives and writes in East Tennessee. Her poetry has appeared in Relief: A Journal of Art and Faith and Ever Eden Literary Journal. Her poem ‘Song of Sarajevo’ was named Best in Show at the 2021 Rehumanize International Create | Encounter. Her first collection of poetry, Pelican, was released in 2021.
Stairway of Ahaz
and down the stairs
the sun that travelled up
The same hour comes again,
yet the shadows record no history.
And I, Hezekiah, have been given
a willing sign of promised life, am
spared my demise by a poultice of figs.
The steaming cauldron of fever,
the grim phantoms parading before me,
the grey-green specter of death, gone.
And what is it that I must learn?
Perhaps in repetition to focus
on the presence of God in every second.
Time has been deemed as straight, measured.
Perhaps not. Is it a bubble then in eternity
whose contents can be replayed indefinitely
in the infinite?
Abrasion of light;
Abeyance of what was mine or might be mine.
I am without and within.
And I am ascended…caught other worldly,
in dark diamond blue.
I know the number of my years.
Paused, I sense my anguished failings, and know
the limitless in praise and adoration.
In sickle-light, sun moving between obstacles,
I am summoned into the sublime.
My libation is poured out
and renewed, poured again.
Ann Power is a retired faculty member from The University of Alabama. She enjoys writing historical sketches as well as poems based in the kingdoms of magical realism. Her work has appeared in: Spillway, Gargoyle, The Birmingham Poetry Review, The American Poetry Journal, Dappled Things, Caveat Lector, The Copperfield Review, and other journals.
Prayers are like the stones
carpeting the creek that flows
through the dark forest of depression,
its chilly water leading out
to a clearing, and then a grassy field,
and then sunlight. To leave this place,
she needs to follow the creek stones,
and she’s out. Never to return. That
she can do. But is she ready? The beads
on her rosary are like the stones in this
creek. Follow the stones to freedom.
Follow the stones, and she’s out. One
stone, and then another, and then another.
Follow the prayers. One bead, one prayer,
and then another, and then another.
And she’s out. She chants the prayers
every night, fingers clicking: one bead,
one prayer, one bead, one prayer. That
she can do. In the dark forest blue jays
feast on birdsong from tree to tree,
while the creek hums its rippling tune.
Is she ready? Never to return. Yes,
that she can do. She climbs down
from the tree of betrayal, abandonment,
and abuse where she sleeps every
night. One bead, and then another,
sliding between her fingers. One prayer,
and then another. Her toes touch creek water.
Cold. Cold. Keep going. Keep moving
forward. Keep praying. One bead, one
prayer, and then another, and then another.
That she can do. A feast of birdsong
tickles her ears. One bead, one prayer.
One stone, and then another, and
then another. Is she ready? Yes,
that she can do. Never to return. One
stone, and then another, and then another.
And so it goes. Finally, she reaches the
clearing. And then the field. Keep going.
Keep praying. And then the kiss of sunlight
on the top of her head. And then she’s out.
Out in the light.
Never to return.
Laura Stamps is a poet with several books, including IN THE GARDEN, THE YEAR OF THE CAT, and TUNING OUT. She is the recipient of seven Pushcart Prize nominations. Currently, Laura is working on a new poetry chapbook about PTSD and healing. Find her every day at Twitter: @LauraStamps16.
Don’t Tell Me: A Theology
Forced to Sunday school
head down in the back row
I played hangman with Betsy Zeff
and during services with a choir of women
my brother and I ran
back and forth in the hallway
snuck out to 711 for candy
forbidden at home.
Moses called to God in the Tent of Meeting
and what’s left
flattened bread, charoset, moror, karpas
bitter Passover table reminders.
My grandmother came from Poland to Brooklyn
wore her cousin’s short trousers
hair in a bob, Yiddish in her voice
other languages left behind
Polish, Russian, and Ruthanian,
her autograph book signed by teenagers
who wrote they would not see each other
for a long time.
I didn’t know how to listen
to my father’s reverse sentences
symptom of his parent’s Yiddish
and too late, I didn’t know
the Old Testament would show me the glue
holding us together. After he died
Mom and I sat in an auditorium
reading the same prayerbook as our temple’s
same rising and falling
minor key familiar around my shoulders.
My theology is mixed together with cousins found
my mother preparing the family tree
mixed with my mother and I arguing
without Dad to break in
salad half prepared on the counter
as I walked narrow pathways.
I’ve been trying to remember some details
since Mom died
the shape of her lips, overbite, heavy eyebrows
and how like a crow
she said my name
the O more round
thrusting her whole body into it.
For we need to remember the details
and what we’ve been handed
to know what to follow.
Like Moses’ sister Miriam, I’m older to my brother
and unlike her I resist showing the way
even as I demand my rights.
No prayers will save me
and I have no veil.
I can only tell the story of Jacob, journeying
to make amends
and how I implored Mom
to include his story in her brief Haggadah.
Is it inevitable that Jews must leave?
Can one track and be tracked?
What’s seen in absence
filters through sheer curtains,
echoes through all the borders.
Laurel Benjamin holds an MFA from Mills College. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry, California Quarterly,Wild Roof Journal, The Midway Review, Mac Queens Quinterly, Poetry and Places, Global Quarantine Museum Pendemics issue, Silver Burch Press, including honorable mention in the Oregon Poetry Association’s Poetry Contest 2017 and 2020, long-listed in Sunspot Literary Journal’s long list, among others.She is affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and the Port Townsend Writers. More of her work can be found at https://thebadgerpress.blogspot.com
Reunion in Nowy Dwór, 2019
For three hundred years, some of us stood watch
over the bodies, then bones of your Jewish ancestors.
For three hundred years, we watched the people
who came to visit them, relatives and friends
from our town, from Warsaw, and places even further
away. We watched them leave small stones atop us
pebbles of covenant and remembrance they kissed
with cold lips and fingers raw from sorrow and wind.
For three hundred years, by the elbowed shores
of the Vistula and Narew, we weathered storms
sunned and faded, shared our landed border with
our Gentile neighbors, divided by only a fence that
did nothing to keep the essences of graveyard flowers
away. We stared either forward or up, our faces
heritage proud, carved with life songs and stories
of the beloveds below us, with biblical passages
and poetries of blessing of the one God.
And then came the onset of the second great war
and the invasion of our home, the Nazi soldiers
who tore us away to lie and crumble under roads
who ground the bodies and bones of our blesséd
into asphalt that bore the treads of tanks near the
tracks of trains that would take their descendants
to Auschwitz to serve, to starve until it was their time
for gas. And for seventy years we lived in hiding
blinded and buried in dirt and mud, under the crushing
weight of human tamping in a town where not even one
Jew of the thousands remained. We were so erased
from memory, no one knew we were there.
Then in 1988, two sons of two survivors bought our cemetery
home back, emptied it of rubble and waste, erected a fence
for its protection. In a short miracle, twelve of our eight hundred
headstones were found, and under pressure from the Christian
populace of Poland, road excavations unearthed over one hundred
more. And now along a pavered plaza, on two high cement walls
we hang as one community, as resurrected symbols of resilience
our edges are rough and crumbling, some of our faces barely there.
Townspeople continue to find us, under sidewalks and playgrounds
and they bring us to this new home built on our original resting place.
They lean us against the locked gate to wait for the memorial
caretakers to carry us inside. Some of us come in pieces and wait
in careful piles for wholeness. Behind us, on triangled pages of black
granite, the names of the vanished are incised, four thousand Jews
who inhabited the houses, who ran the businesses in what became
a ghetto prison walled in wood. And when the winds blow in from
Auschwitz, they carry the ash of the ancestors of our visitors
who gather each year in early June to visit our stones, to find
new or forgotten family. And they each bring a stone from
their homeland, many from Israel, to continue to honor
the covenant and community their everlasting God made first
with Moses and then with Joshua and always with the unvanquished
Jews, His chosen people not to be forgotten.
Nancy Himel spent 30 years teaching high school English in the hood near Los Angeles before she retired in August, 2019. Prairie Schooner published one of her poems in 2007, and now that she is a full-time poet, she is hoping more of her work will be published soon. She lives in Tucson, Arizona where she is working on a memoir-in-verse, tentatively titled From Ruach’s Cradle.