The Discipleship of Trees – a poem by Philip C. Kolin

The Discipleship of Trees

They are God’s most faithful disciples,
their rings symbolizing vows of stability

like monks pledging forever
to the earth’s monastery.

They stand firm in their sturdy
wooden sandals and

habits of glossy green announce
they belong to the confraternity of hope.

They provide cathedrals: choir lofts
for brown thrashers and redwings,

storied windows to welcome the sun
on his diurnal journey,

a canopied sanctuary to hold clouds of incense,
and towering arches where stars genuflect.

God sends these disciples out and up
to the cobalt blue of infinity.

Soaring firs and sequoias hear
archangels singing the Psalms

and breathe heaven’s closet breath,
absolving coal-dusted earth for sinful pollution.

Some disciples have cause to be canonized–
those captured and cut down

for crucifixions or those rigged
for lynchings.

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Philip C. Kolin, Distinguished Prof. of English (Emeritus) at the Univ. of Southern Mississippi has published nine collections of poems, the most recent being Emmett Till in Different States: Poems (Third World Press, 2015) and Reaching Forever: Poems (Cascade Books, Poiema Series, 2019). He has published more than 350 poems in such journals as Spiritus, Christian Century, America, The Cresset, Theology Today, US Catholic, Sojourners, St. Austin Review, Christianity and Literature, Michigan Quarterly Review, Louisiana Literature, Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry,
Emmanuel, and Vocations and Prayer

Field Workings 3 – Mardon in Christow – a poem by Julie Sampson

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A widely published poet, Julie Sampson edited Lady Mary Chudleigh’s Selected Poems, 2009 (Shearsman). Her two poetry collections are Tessitura (Shearsman, 2014) and It Was When It Was When It Was (Dempsey and Windle), 2018. She was highly commended in the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize, 2019.

Communing with the Owl – a poem by Joel Moskowitz

Communing with the Owl, May, 2020

Perhaps the owl who lives in Brues woods is my spirit animal,
as Janet says.
I know she’s teasing but I take it as a compliment:
to have a spiritual connection
means I’m sensitive.

From home, I walk to the trailhead,
enter the woods, which feels full of ghosts––
why not believe in them?

When I see the owl in a tree,
I only say “Who”, not “Who cooks for you”––
though it is a barred owl–– I don’t want to insult
with a cartoonish sound.

The owl starts preening its great brown and white chest
as if I’m not there, and indeed I feel hard-to-see.

Small feathers like wisps of candle smoke
fluff away from its body and fall
through the forest-filtered light,
and I reach out my hand and catch one.

I feel its beautiful uselessness in my cupped palm.
Then, I raise the feather to my chest, and hold it there,
wanting the owl to notice me.

I feel like a long dead but still standing tree.
Part of me wants the owl to glide down,
drape its wings on my back.

I want the feather to multiply in a soft breastplate.

Meanwhile Janet is probably in our back yard
watering the keyhole garden.
I pray for her health, our children’s, everybody’s.
I don’t know if I’m praying to god, owl, or air.

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Joel Moskowitz is an artist and retired picture framer who lives with his wife and cat in Sudbury, Massachusetts. His poems have appeared in J Journal, Midstream,Naugatuck River Review, The Healing Muse, MuddyRiverPoetryReview.com, BostonPoetryMagazine.com and Soul-Lit.com. He is a First Prize winner of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire National Contest.

Shift – a poem by Stephen Kingsnorth

Shift

Told Jesus walked through Easter doors,
a lockdown sham of much report
and Thomas offered digit wounds
whether he poked, though doubtless stared.
It’s more than magic show with bones,
an urban myth, dispensing shift;
is poetry or prose employed
to grasp what cannot be described?
Some try to cling old paradigm
amongst the vineyards, press for wine –
yet when they saw at breaking bread,
he disappeared, companions fled.
So why the box, contain what can’t –
because it fits what cannot fix?

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Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had some 140 pieces accepted by on-line poetry sites, including Amethyst Review; and Gold Dust, The Seventh Quarry, The Dawntreader, Foxtrot Uniform Poetry Magazines, Vita Brevis Anthology ‘Pain & Renewal’ & Fly on the Wall Press ‘Identity’https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com/

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The Lifespan of a Cricket – a personal essay by Barbara Alfaro

The Lifespan of a Cricket

It’s three a.m. The cricket has been quiet for a while but I still can’t sleep. I want to go outside and stare at the moon and the stars. Of course, I won’t. The neighbors might think me a burglar and yard dogs would bark.

Calling for a mate, the cricket who lives in back of the washing machine chirps cheerily and loudly much of the night and he keeps me awake much of the night. I say “he” because female crickets do not chirp. After a week of fractured sleep, I realize the cricket has no intention of leaving the house the same way he came in. I google “How long does a cricket live?” I am somewhat relieved to learn the lifespan of a cricket is ninety days. The question Google cannot answer is can I last ninety sleepless nights listening to him? I muse that perhaps he is an old cricket – still horny but old, say two and half months or so. Suppose, however, this particular cricket is very young. I decide to expedite his demise and google “How to kill a cricket.” Poison is the answer. However, in researching the various cricket-killing poisons it is clear they will also kill my little dog Darby, a blessed creature who truly appreciates a good night’s sleep as well as morning, afternoon, and early evening naps.

I’m the kind of person who apologizes to a bug before I squash it. When not squashing bugs, if they’re big enough, and slow enough, I paper cup them and put them out in the yard where they belong. I feel terrible when I use ant traps. I’m not certain, but I think the ants are expecting nookie when they enter the teeny traps. An assignation at cheap motel gone terribly wrong. It’s interesting how romance minded insects are. I really didn’t like the thought of offing Jiminy Cricket. I speak with some authority on the matter having once played the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio.

I recall with a tinge of sadness that the only time I heard my parents argue was when I was a child and this one truly terrible argument was caused by an infestation of crickets in our home. Even late in life, my mother and father were always sweethearts, holding hands, exchanging soft smiles. We lived in a little house appropriately enough in Little Neck, New York. It is one of those suburban communities where, except for the different colors of the houses, the houses all look the same, the same window boxes with geraniums nestling in them, the same flagstone walks curling toward front doors, and oddly, usually the same number of children in each family. I was awakened one night by the sounds of my parents yelling at one another and the noise of the vacuum cleaner. My father was vacuuming what seemed hundreds of crickets while my mother wrangled any insect stragglers with a broom. I was shocked to hear something I had never heard, my parents saying mean things to one another. It didn’t last long. Perhaps they were shocked too. Even as a child I understood clearly it was all because of those damn crickets. And here am I, undone by one.

Sleeplessness engenders morbid thoughts and something only God knows and Google doesn’t have a clue about is how long I will live. I remember second grade catechism class in Catholic grammar school. Seven year old boys dressed like miniature businessmen and little girls wearing blue jumpers and white blouses with Peter Pan collars taking flight into theology. The nuns described purgatory and hell with such gusto and glee you’d think they’d just returned from a bus tour to both locals – with pockets full of complimentary tickets for their students. My classmates and I were often told our sins caused the death of Our Lord. I couldn’t fathom what sins I had actually committed. Well, yes, I did knot all my brother’s socks and ties but he decapitated my doll for heaven’s sake! Surely, some sort of retaliation was in order. Her name was Suzy and she was my favorite. I was shocked to see that her wooden head had been fastened to her rubber body with a thick rubberband. I can still see Suzy’s head beside her little body on my pillow. The rubberband was between them. What irks me even now, all these decades later is that I did nothing to provoke this act of barbarism on the part of my brother. Brothers do this sort of thing. There is no explanation other than that.

It would have been kinder if the good sisters had been more forthright and told their little charges something like “Oh, nothing you’ve done now you sillies, but just wait, just you wait till you’re older, you’ll be sinning like crazy then!” Thankfully, today the emphasis is on love, not fear. But that doesn’t help an aging scaredy-cat like me.

I’m having difficulty enduring a single, noisy cricket. How am I going survive all that fire and smoke in the hereafter? It’s difficult for me to conceive of a deity who isn’t as kind as I am. If, as I was taught, I am made in the image of God and I cannot stand to see suffering, why would God be okay with it? I understand the need for justice especially when I think of people who are deliberately evil but what about the likes of me – those burdened by wrong or just plain stupid choices? Someone (probably Thomas Merton) once said that the memory of our sins is punishment enough. Saint Augustine prayed that God would “banish such memories” from him. It would have been grand if the saint’s misogyny had also been banished. Augustine believed women were not made in the image of God. This honor was reserved for yet another exclusive men only club.

I can’t help wondering just how long a stretch is awaiting me in those flames. And, will the length of punishment time be shortened for “good behavior” – not squawking too much, being considerate of fellow firemates, that sort of thing. Can one even measure time in eternity? That’s a question Einstein might answer. Somewhere along the road of history, priests invented the concept of purgatory because Christians found the idea of hell so scary. I hope the entranceway to the former is clearly marked “Purgatory, NOT Hell!” or something to that effect so I know heaven is in the offing. The thief on the cross beside our Lord served no time at all. “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Years ago, I participated in a spiritual retreat at the Washington Retreat House hosted by the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. A lot had happened between second grade and middle age that needed some serious atoning. The Franciscans are known for their spirit of hospitality and the memory of those gentle days of warmth, quiet, and prayer comforts me even now.

Understandably, my fear of death is intensified by the pandemic. Epicurus, the Dale Carnegie of antiquity (both men seemed overly fond of maxims), taught there is no reason to be afraid of death because you feel with your senses and as your senses end when you die you won’t feel pain. You will no longer be. Not exactly cheering but logical. This thinking only works if one doesn’t believe in an afterlife. That’s not a view I accept. If I could overcome my fear of dying, contentment would be easy for me. I am a childless widow without an ounce of ambition. I have all that is needed – a longing for God, a home, dear friends, and silly as it sounds to some, my pet pal. I don’t know how anyone living alone can go through what we are all experiencing now without a cat or dog to care for and nestle beside. Or even a canary. Doctors call not being able to touch or embrace another person “skin hunger.” Snuggling with my dog certainly isn’t the same as being held by or holding another person but it is warm, if somewhat furry affection and that’s no small thing.

I’m remembering the Franciscan nun who told me in her soft Irish brogue, “Ah, I don’t believe any of that hell business. I think when you die, it’s just like takin’ yer coat off, only the coat is all yer sinfulness, and then, there you are – in bliss.” I’m sleepy but not too tired to hope she was right.

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Barbara Alfaro is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Playwriting. Her memoir Mirror Talk won the IndieReader Discovery Award for Best Memoir. Barbara’s poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Poet Lore, Boston Literary Review, Trouvaille Review, The Blue Mountain Review, and Voices de la Luna. 

An Angel Swims – a poem by Janet Krauss

An Angel Swims

Her body of air knows its way
as she swims in the water,
feels the hush of the ocean’s touch.
She sees the sun’s light keeping pace
by her side, hears the slow sound
of rush her rhythm creates,
tastes the salt that brims her lips,
smells the seaweed that trims
the shore, knows the time
has come, as the tide recedes,
to find her wings before dark sets in.

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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.

The Shoal Lilies – a poem by Kathleen Brewin Lewis

The Shoal Lilies

It’s not what you were expecting
as you kayaked around the bend,
it’s what you received:
throngs of tall white lilies—
rare six-pointed stars—
thriving on the shoals.
Blooming islands rooted
in the crevices between
the river rocks, scenting the air.
You found a watery path
through a stand of them,
lifted your paddle, let the current
pull you along. Your heart,
tugged and tattered,
swung open and let
a vagrant peace flow in.
That such abundance
was here in the world
and you hadn’t known it existed
until this day. This day,
the day of the shoal lilies
along the Broad River.

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Kathleen Brewin Lewis writes about the natural world and family life. She’s the author of two chapbooks of poetry, Fluent in Rivers and July’s Thick Kingdom. Her work has also appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Christian Century, Southern Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, and The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol. V: Georgia. She’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a Best of the Net nominee.

Sacrament of Girl – a poem by Angelica Whitehorne

Sacrament of Girl

childhood is clean cotton sheets, a girl in one piece
lying underneath, wind breathes and sheets roam,
but girl stays, keeps herself inside herself, her mother’s
redemption, all the mothers’ unyielding relief

there will be no heart strings left on
a man’s starched sleeve, not this time, not yet,
such careful strategies, the lord was splayed out
for man’s sins, but hers would be left unfinished,

unrecognized, buried deep,
unwelcomed if risen,

innocence is a loan, debt comes
as a confession, she was taught early
on how to fall to her knees by the men
in vestments, take sacrament.

repenting for curious hands, for
the peck to the boy’s mouth corner,
and for her sacred, tempting existence
so very necessary, but still a nuisance.

body, carrier pigeon, the messages as violent
as biblical, possibly synonyms, girls as birds,
all breast and clipped wings, locked away,
loaded onto, bred miracles through,

silent as the night they were born into,
translucent as the ghosts they’ll turn into.

but imagine this time, women write the book, don’t barter
for another white, daisy day, don’t asked to be saved,
this time she becomes her own religion, centuries old,
fresh as fruit off the tree, a new creation story.

off the alter, arms released from carrying, eyes alert
and hair uncovered, unrepentant in the breeze,
this time choosing what grows inside,

this time the men on their knees, this time
she flies without testimony tied to her avian feet.

 

Angelica Whitehorne is a recent college graduate who writes for the Development department of a refugee organization in New York. At home she writes her poetry and stories with her 10 plants as backdrop and her future on her tongue. She has forthcoming work in the Magnolia Review, Crack the Spine, and Breadcrumbs Magazine.

 

LADDER HILL – a poem by Richard Britton

LADDER HILL

Head in the sky bravely facing death.
I don’t want to die,
I want to die through you,
From your clipped cliff face to your
Bouquet moorland,
Writhing into the sky.

Summer’s thrill is high in your up-tilted gaze
Photons of bronze smashing out illicit
Blue that emperors’ pride could not subdue.
Law and Word etched in your granite smile
Cannot be owned
But speaks only through the light and shade.

The inland sea of being beckons from your edge
Not mimicking the ocean
But the cosmic sphere
Where the waves of the skies
And the winds of the seas
Trick each other up to the line.
Birds swim and fish fly.

Lightning without thunder,
Anger without hate.
Your head emerges after each flash,
As I sit on my chair, legs sunk into stones,
Hoping for more, wanting a crash
But even as the tower of gunpowder cloud
Presses above me
You whisper through raindrops.
An orchestra tuning up.

Sometimes you vanish.

When my day is vague and thoughts won’t dance
As I want them to. The thick gluey haze
Clears until a lonely cloud bobs along above you

As the sun sets your face changes.
Lights switched off
One by one in a theatre.
A grey capped man sweeps the embers
From your granite.
A flickering ballet
Floats silently into the night.

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Richard Britton is a theologian, elder and a worker in the criminal justice sector. His writing links the sacred to the everyday. He is published in The Ruskin Review and Bulletin, Philistine Press and Another North. He has a book out with Semeia SBL next year on metaphor in Romans.

When the Wound Reopens – a poem by Elizabeth Bolton

When the Wound Reopens

I am every person I have ever hated;
this is the great trick You pulled on me
who thought I spat my bitterness away
but only spat on a mirror.
When the wound reopens
music is mockery;
the songs I once sang along to
laugh hardest of all.
When the wound reopens
beauty – the urge for it – has flown off
and I do not now
nor have I ever had wings to follow.
When the wound reopens
poems do nothing: I both understand
and hate the girl who wrote them.

When the wound reopens
I forget here
I think of there
I think of rain, the smell of it
in a foreign country and it tortures me
how little I knew of pain
when cold sodden feet
forced to stop in an ice cream shop
were enough to ruin the day.

When the wound reopens
You come pouring in
and I must sift through silt –
the glittering dark powder
into which Your light is fused.

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Elizabeth Bolton is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto where she researches poetic literacy practice and education. Her stories and poems have appeared in Existere, Open Minds Quarterly, EVENT and Mothers Always Write. You can find her on Instagram: @elizabethboltonwriting.