Water Prayer – a poem by Steve Myers

Water Prayer


—for Joe Bruchac and Jerry Ramsay


O plumed, light-shot fountain. Hydraulics of the Holy. O!


As a kestrel hovers, wingtips quivering
on unmoving air, so the lullaby
levitated, feathery. Or a trace
of sound of footfall on the forest floor
in spruce-green Monhegan’s Cathedral Woods.
So much depending on the interplay
of melody and drone, his listeners drawn
in, borne aloft, an ancient weightlessness.
When the Abenaki storyteller
finished, he put away the chambered flute, 
lifted a water bottle, & gazed down, 
briefly, before sipping it. Not thinking,
but a prayer, he told us, to the Spirit
who’d granted Creation the sacred spring.

In the quiet after, a friend told me
he’d recently placed a kestrel box
in Bucks County, where the Holicong Road 
meets Quarry. Where the underground river
ran beneath the feet of the Lenape.
Where every September from my third-floor
window I’d see the aged sugar maple 
on that corner heralding fall, lifting 
copious gallons of water to shimmer
its gold-vermilion leaves, & at night, when
I lay sleeping, releasing an outflow 
back into the soil, so the wildflowers  
rioted around it. O plumed, light-shot
fountain. Hydraulics of the Holy. O!

Steve Myers has published a full-length collection, Memory’s Dog, and two chapbooks. A Pushcart Prize winner, he has recently published poems in journals such as Callaloo, Hotel America, Paterson Literary Review, The Southern Review,Tar River Poetry and Valley Voices.  

Jesus with No Hands – a poem by Christine Penney

Jesus with No Hands
 
In front of Ascension Church 
in New York City 
is a statue of Jesus.
   
White folds are carved down 
in a curve to naked feet. 
His hands are missing. 
 
Did someone chop off his hands?
Could the plaster no longer bear 
the weight of his open arms?
 
An old woman stands before Jesus.
A bandage of rosary beads 
are wrapped around her hand.  
 
Maybe she’s praying 
for the hands to be returned 
so all will be whole 
on 107th Street.
 

Christine Penney lives in New York City.   She co-wrote and performed a one- woman show on the life of German activist/artist Kaethe Kollvitz.  She acted in theater productions in the Bay Area and NYC.  Recently she had several poems published with Hole in the Head Review and in Porter Gulch Journal. Readings include the Poets and Writers intergenerational Program and Goddard Riverside for Women’s Month.

Mea Culpa – an essay by Taylor Hood

Mea Culpa

Several years ago, I undertook my bachelor’s dissertation, a study of beetles in the family Silphidae, eaters of the dead and recyclers of nutrients. Every evening, I’d drive to four woodlands to inspect pitfall traps baited with rotting chicken. Inside each trap, black-and-orange silphids waited to be counted and, mercifully, released. Though it was a rather gruesome affair, I considered each visit a pilgrimage to the shrine of The World as It Is. Just as with my interest in death acceptance literature, the sculpting of the fleshless human form in clay, and my practicing wilderness skills, this experience was yet another armament against what I deemed to be the world-denying religious view of existence. 

As someone with a background in ecology, I’m aware that all things are subject to change. And yet, I’d been adamant that I would never make peace with religion, Christianity in particular. This isn’t a conversion story—I’m not a Christian—instead, it’s an apology. It’s a reflection on the mind’s capacity for change and the importance of thoughtful consideration of the other side. The switch in my perception arose through a series of little changes, many slow degradations of certainty. Indeed, some months after the completion of my beetle project I was in a car accident. Though at the time I considered it a further acknowledgement of a godless and meaningless universe, this was to have profound implications later on.

Brought up in an irreligious household, studying a science subject, and being enamoured of certain polemical public intellectuals, I was an affirmed atheist. I saw no proof for the existence of anything approaching the supernatural. Though awed by nature, I’d always tried to reduce everything into fundamental biological principles, the universe an elaborate machine working by its own means and without any divine presence because it didn’t require one. The notion that science disenchanted the world was frankly insulting and any inward spiritual search or outward reaching to something more was anathema to me. The only wisdom one needed was to be found here on earth, in the soil and amongst the leaves. Those who chose to sit on the peaks of mountains with their eyes closed needed to stop being so egotistical and instead look around them to see the true wonder of reality. Curious, then, that I disagreed even with those groups who view nature itself as a kind of divinity. I could appreciate on an aesthetic level the polytheistic or animistic religions, but it seemed I’d made hard deterministic materialism my faith. In truth, I considered myself superior because I was able to cope with existence as a finite creature, capable of scorning all pretension.

If my worldview was based entirely on an understanding of the kinship of all life, and an (ironically quasi-religious) feeling for the significance of being just another animal, most heinous to me was Christianity’s anthropocentrism. In the commandment in Genesis 1:26 to multiply and subdue, and in the promise of another life more generally, there is an unfortunate short-sightedness. In this framework, earth is simply a testing ground for ascended souls in waiting. For humans to be placed at the pinnacle of existence to do with the land as we please is wrong, and I firmly believed that all Christians cared little for the planet, even going so far as to write stories suggesting as much. It took the discovery of John Butler’s YouTube videos to alter my perception of what a Christian could be and what it meant to believe. Not only was this man not a strident zealot, in fact, he spoke passionately about nature and his love of animals. This opened up the idea of Christian stewardship, based largely on other passages of the Bible. Here was a green and admirable kind of Christianity which saw the tending of God’s Garden to be of vital importance. Things weren’t as simple as they’d seemed.

The second major shift came through my insistence on visiting—as a deliberate challenge to myself—sites of religious importance. Though I already enjoyed exploring museums and galleries from a secular humanist perspective, I’d always been suspicious of churches and cathedrals, despite being drawn by their venerable beauty at a surface level. It was during my first visit to Westminster Abbey that the idea of some higher principle at work in humans to erect such wonders came to me. Later visits to St Vitus in Prague and St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, allowed me to see these buildings not as lavish sanctums of falsity but as bastions of quietude and reverence. I wanted to understand why I, an outsider, felt so touched by being in these hallowed spaces. And even if the idea that one needed to visit a specific building to experience God was ridiculous, I felt myself moving still closer to matters of the spirit. With further examinations into religious art and symbolism, visions that looked beyond the purely earthly were no longer so abhorrent. I stopped scowling at cassocks and crosses.

Around this time, I was experiencing acute discomfort from a variety of ailments, and contemplation of transcendence was an effective balm. I recalled my car accident often—in which I could’ve lost my twin or vice versa—so that even the idea of escape from the body was an understandable desire. Why not look to something more when you have the capability to do so? And why deny the feelings stirring within? With these questions in mind, I started to think further about humanity’s place on earth. 

I’d often felt uneasy about many of our kind’s fleeting projects, but reading Richard Tarnas’s epic account of philosophy The Passion of the Western Mind deeply impressed me with a sense of the world’s striving to know itself through human endeavour. Furthermore, it instilled in me the suspicion that there must be more to the story of this planet than perpetual eating, breeding, sleeping, dying. It’s true, those without religion often make their own meaning, and for me this had always been accomplished through writing and art, practices I’d found difficult to reconcile. Thus, dwelling on the act of creation itself was to further inform my journey. 

Gradually, I came to the realisation that I’d always been close to the spiritual in my love of myth and the fantastical tale; the act of storytelling itself inflamed me more than I could express in words. More generally, I could never explain why I was so profoundly affected by any work of literature, music or art that spoke to higher ideals. I had to admit to myself that there were things I couldn’t explain and that, in a way, the scientific mindset did disenchant by rendering everything into a tool working without any apparent end. With these considerations in mind, I revisited J.R.R. Tolkien’s arguments with his friend C.S. Lewis. Once, I’d found Tolkien’s Catholicism to be an unfortunate flaw; now, his framing of Christianity as the greatest and highest overarching story became clearer. Furthermore, the Professor’s ideas of sub-creation spoke to me on a deeply personal level as an imaginative person. I was now closest to understanding the power of the figure of Christ, even if I couldn’t accept that a specific historical figure was the embodiment of the Logos.

Despite these broadenings of thought, unease crept into my relationship with nature. I was no longer so comfortable with the idea of being a mere animal destined to die on a dirt ball, and the acknowledgement of this was troubling to my former non-anthropocentrism. I even found it difficult to tread my beloved forests, equating the biological with the stagnant. I struggled to accept that all of this human striving was for nothing, so I began to believe there must be some grand cosmological narrative at play. At this stage, I felt I could no longer call myself an atheist, and I wavered back and forth as an agnostic. Though in my heart I knew I couldn’t accept Christianity for a multitude of reasons, I was also aware that I’d never be more receptive to its message.

I’d always derided those who only read one book to get all their answers, without realising that I’d never engaged directly with what any sophisticated theologian actually had to say. Another important change resulted from my reading of Thoughtful Theism by Fr. Andrew Younan. This work opened my eyes to the logical fallacies and erroneous statements inherent in the usual atheistic arguments. It was fascinating to encounter a courageously thoughtful and rational Christian thinker who prized logic and reason above all else, even going so far as to scorn his fellow religionists when they failed to hold to his high standard. I was shocked to find myself agreeing with the Aquinian conception of a simple God who works through all. As I read, I realised that I no longer accepted an eternally existing universe without a cause, nor did I see the invocation of a “multiverse” to be anything like a final answer to the question of our origins. I had to admit to myself that, even accounting for evolution and every other scientific theory, as do many Christians, I believed in some kind of original creative principle.

Having read Younan’s book, I then studied the Bible itself. In my mind’s eye, I’d always beheld the Christian faith as a kind of shimmering brightness, inhumanly cold and severely unnatural. To my surprise, I discovered in these passages imbued with philosophical weight and lyrical poignancy a doubtful and pessimistic strain. In fact, many passages were in line with my own contemplations on death and fallibility. It was all very human and relatable, at times psychologically dark to the point of invoking the monstrous and the grotesque. Christianity’s idealised purity and transcendence, with which I had begun to empathise, were thus complimented by what I considered a much-needed reflection on the harsher truths of existence. Most importantly, and perhaps paradoxically, Christianity’s dwelling on the insignificance of humankind in the face of God and the universe, and on the inevitability of death, could work with, not against, non-anthropocentrism, accepting one’s end and thinking environmentally. Self-absorbed and constrictive modernity was now more troubling.

Over time, I learned to respect the Christian faith and other religions because they upheld what I’d always valued but had never fully grasped as aspects of my own spiritual disposition: feelings of reverence and connectedness, the remembrance of the past, and creative fulfilment. I even began to envy the devout for their constant contact with the profound and the heightened. Even if I understood religion and spirituality to be human constructions, I argued that pontifications on sublime cosmic forces, archetypal figures, divine acts of creation, and passages to paradise surely helped to cultivate a world-aware sensibility and to bring people out of their mundane lives to consider that something more I’d been denying to myself

I’ve since rekindled my love of the outdoors, realising that the distance I created between nature and myself was a consequence of confusion and overshooting. Plants, rocks, rivers and beasts were for a time stripped of the significance I’d discovered and subsequently amplified in the uniquely human capacity to contemplate higher ideals and to fashion significant works. This was and is a false dichotomy; sacredness lies in everything. Our kinship with other biological entities doesn’t negate our part as actors in this play, nor does it mean we should treat them with derision, and this is something I’d always known and felt. 

In many respects, I’m back where I started. Today, my thoughts align, albeit tentatively, with pantheism, though a distinct creator is still a potent idea. I believe that science is admirable in its quest to understand how things happen, but it can’t answer the question of why we’re here. Christianity is one such attempt to reveal the divine story, and while I can’t call myself a believer, I truly believe I’ve grown by confronting my prejudices and biases about this old way.

In this essay, I’ve been advocating for a more compassionate and empathetic understanding of other viewpoints—so long as they aren’t harmful. There may be atheists out there who consider my wishy-washy feelings and unverifiable ideas to be akin to a tragic fall. So be it. In my twenty-nine years on this planet, approximately three of those have seen any focused examination of the religion I once took to be the source of most of the world’s ills. Of course, I could say that I’d known many arguments against Christianity for a long time, but I’d never before listened to compassionate Christians, walked the aisles of a cathedral, or even opened the Bible in good faith, and for that I apologise.

Addendum: Unease stalks my words concerning transcendent powers and purposes. All that matters in the end, I think, is cultivating ecocentrism and denying the modern project to master nature and to extract all that is storied and beautiful from the world.

Taylor Hood writes fantastical stories concerning nature and yearning, as well as essays on topics such as architecture and aesthetics. He graduated with a BSc (Hons) Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, First, and is currently undertaking an MA Res English Lit. His website is: https://thoodauthor.wordpress.com

…समत्वं योग उच्यते – a poem by Manisha Sharma

…समत्वं योग उच्यते
…samatvam yoga ucyate (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 48)

Equilibrium is yoga

is gathering toward the center 
equal mass on two extremes of a seesaw,
balance 

is recognizing what you feel like
a scratch on the shin,
awareness

                                                     …samatvam is yoga
                                                     is when looking at yourself in the mirror and 
                                                     looking at yourself with eyes shut
                                                     reveals the same you, 
                                                     opposites merge to release 
                                                     an identical response  
                                                     Equilibrium is yoga

Dr. Manisha Sharma is a poet, fiction writer, and interdisciplinary collaborator in the United States of America. Her work is about social issues and about simplifying complex social issues and concepts. A yoga practitioner and an internationally-certified teacher for more than 20 years, her latest poetry project is about shedding myths about yoga. Her work is widely published and awarded. Details are on her webpage, manisha-sharma.com 

Forma – a poem by Chase Padusniak

Forma

“Now mark the truth of this figure.” – Jan van Ruusbroec

Patted and clapped in primeval
Un-time, before memories of good
Or ill, like the great ivoried remains of
A pterodactyl, or the half-known unclad bars of
Homo erectus. So are each of us, known before
Knowing ourselves.

Some delight in this un-knowing. Some 
Puzzle over prior facts. But this forming
Does not depend, hangs on a central point,
A burning love exceeding wildest desire, un-
Pointed, but fathomless flowing out and filling,
Bubbling over.

“If you hate your enemy, you are damned […] You should not despise, oppress, judge, nor condemn anyone […] Despise yourself, judge yourself, damn yourself.” – Jan van Ruusbroec

What to do? On the damnedest days,
Darkness spreads in the mind’s sky
And blots out one memory, stokes
Another, unleashing a deluge of burning
Malice, envy, sadness, hatred, rage-filled,
Unabashed self-ness.

Falsity in guise of selfless penance
Flags itself by the fruits of such an overripe,
Rot-branch tree. In knowing our un-knowing—
So we outline this form, shadowed around
This same-self, and, thereby, grow, prosper,
Un-see sins.

Chase Padusniak is a PhD candidate in Princeton University’s English department, where he specializes in late medieval mystics like Julian of Norwich, Marguerite Porete, and Jan van Ruusbroec. He is an associate editor at Macrina Magazine; his poetry and prose have appeared in Soft CartelChurch Life JournalComitatus, Augustinian Studies, Athwart, as well as the edited collectionSlavoj Žižek and Christianity (Routledge 2019), among other outlets. Twitter and Instagram: @ChasePadusniak

Night Weight – a poem by Ben Groner III

Ben Groner III (Nashville, TN), recipient of a Pushcart Prize nomination and Texas A&M University’s 2014 Gordone Award for undergraduate poetry, has work published in Rust + MothCheat River Review, Whale Road Review, Stirring, Midway Journal, and elsewhere. He’s also a former bookseller at Parnassus Books. You can see more of his work at bengroner.com/creative-writing/

To Survive Another Season – a poem by Joan Mazza

To Survive Another Season


I follow my cat’s intent stare across
the yard to see what she sees that I don’t.
Three young deer disappear amid the dross
of autumn leaves. I freeze and hope they won’t
see me inside the screened porch where I read
about extinction. Their colors blend
with the browns and beige of the woodland
all around us as they silently feed
without their mother. To hide in plain sight—
the trick of camouflage, cloaked in color
and texture to match the woods. Their plight
doesn’t point toward evolving to be smaller.
They struggle on through traffic, drought, and snow
certain of sustenance that I don’t know.

Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist and psychotherapist, and taught workshops focused on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self. Her poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Prairie Schooner, Slant, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia.

Driving Home from Tilghman Island in the Pouring Rain – a poem by Mary R. Finnegan

Driving Home from Tilghman Island in the Pouring Rain

Cloud-shackled sky. Field 
of winter-burnt wheat gleaming
in rain, seagrass bleached to brown. 
Power lines swaying. A lone 

farmhouse surrounded 
by wind-stripped trees. 
Through the cracked window, 
briny, pine-scented air. 

Static on the radio, a veil 
of rain on every road 
from here to home. The scent 
of incense, stale and musky, 

hangs in your hair and clothes. 
You lean forward in your seat, but
deceived by distance and dark, 
see no better than before.

The windshield wipers struggle 
and fail to keep pace 
with the storm. Tomorrow looms. 
Trash sputters across the road.

You think this drive will break you, 
leave you lonely in your loneliness, 
but I promise it is not too late 
for your sorrow-shackled heart.     
  
It’s only rain, and when it lifts, 
the world will open up 
and you will see that all, 
even the rain, is gift. 

Mary R. Finnegan is a writer and editor from Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in several places including The American Journal of Nursing, Lydwine, Catholic Digest, PILGRIM: A Journal of Catholic Experience. She is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at The University of St. Thomas, Houston. 

Lifespring – a poem by Peter Taylor

Lifespring


All day up and down the shore the
	     wavelets
	     bubbles
	     swells
	     the crash of water-volume
	     and splash of froth
	     the salt-mist	
	     	     	  thrown
dampens the 
	     grasses
	     bay laurel
	     wild rose
	     goldenrod
	     and beech seedling
	     the ferns
	     the ferns
	     the ferns	
	     	     	  and so 
the soil drinks
	     the chipmunk drinks
	     the multitude in the soil drinks	
	     	     	  and 
	     when they are quenched, what remains
	     	     	  settles
	     works its way
	     	     	  gathers
	     to droplets
	     to seep through
	     to rivulet
	     to stream
	     to rush
	     to plunge
	     	     	  in joyful cataract
to the big water
	     returning yet again
to begin,

undiminished 
for all that
generosity.

Peter Taylor attends to inner landscapes in people and in words.  Deeply rooted in New York City and woodland, he and his husband now make their home on a Nova Scotia bluff overlooking the North Atlantic. 

A Subtle Art – a poem by Natasha Bredle

A Subtle Art

The air took me quietly, a small
solar flare, found penchant 
misnomer, misguidance guiding me 
to the footfall where I lay softly 
at the feet of everything, which
includes nothing. No sacrament, 
no starry-eyed gaze, just wist and 
for a moment, peace. I stared 
and decided this was poetry,
the leaving and the returning and 
every inch of lichen growing beside
my window, pleading here with
quiet sighs and shadows. So write.
So speak it with your breath and 
record it in the asterisks, the meadow 
at half-moon. The forgetting, the
picture frame preservation. My eyes 
when they see the stars. Mother 
watching the ceiling at midnight,
preacher trying to feel God, 
horizon beckoning us to elsewhere.
If everything and nothing is home, 
then I belong nowhere but here, 
breathing inside and outside, 
uncertain and so very sure. 

Natasha Bredle is an emerging writer based in Ohio. She writes about what she thinks about, which is really too much for her poor brain. You can find her work in Aster Lit, Trouvaille Review, and Full House Lit, to name a few.