Confession – a poem by Sarah Rehfelt

Confession
 
Knowing this place to be not hurried,
I came for darkness –
for the temporary shading and softening of shadows,
the thought of cold, night air moving in,
its thickness settling and staying
for the duration of sky
or as long as it was needed.
Stories must be told and retold many times.
Forgive me, but this is how I remember.

Sarah Rehfeldt lives with her family in western Washington where she is a writer, artist, and photographer.  Her poems have appeared in Presence; Blueline, Appalachia; and Weber – The Contemporary West.  She finds inspiration in the close-up world of macro nature photography.  Favorite subjects include her garden; the forest; cloudscapes; and the ever-plentiful raindrops of western Washington.  You can view her photography web pages at:  www.pbase.com/candanceski

Repetition – a poem by Mark J. Mitchell

Repetition



…a poet must be torn in two in such a way as to close the way to all deceptions.
					—Soren Kierkegaard
					Journals. 1850




			The ghost arrives. He sits and starts to write.
			His sharp eyes staring from an unlined face,
			he speaks low while scribbling into the night.

			“You think,” he says, “that you leap towards light—
			you’re nimble, jumping over a candle’s small flame.
			You watch for the coming of words to write.

			You start. You stop. You see her face, her bright
			deep eyes.” You let him talk on while you place,
			without speaking, a glass, darker than night,

			of wine before him. You’re framing a fight
			you won’t have. You’d like to be sure to say
			something he’d like, something he’d want to write.

			“You don’t understand,” he keeps on, “this rite
			we repeat is a game you made up. A play.
			It’s you who speaks while I scribble all night.

			This balances your left hand and your right
			eye. You let me appear to bear the blame
			for disturbing all these words you won’t write.”
			Flame blows out. A scribbled page lights the night.

 

Mark J. Mitchell’s latest full-length poetry collection is Roshi, San Francisco (Norfolk Press). A novel, The Magic War is available from Loose Leaves Publishing. He studied  at Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver and George Hitchcock. His work appeared in several anthologies and hundreds of periodicals. He lives with his wife, Joan Juster, where he made his living pointing out pretty things in San Francisco. Now, like many others, he’s unemployed.

Sister Felicity – a poem by Janet McCann

Sister Felicity

fifty years a bride of Christ 
hiding her arms thin with labor 
in the habit the young ones reject.

she watches them in their blue suits 
they look like old Girl Scouts 
she thinks, but does not say

now she barely remembers her childhood home 
her father swinging her high in the cherry orchard 
so she could pick the lowest fruit,

fifty years of laundry 
of the saying of the hours,
hard carved chairs in the chapel, Matins, Lauds.

often alone in the chapel 
while the younger sisters slept,
singing although her voice is flat and harsh.

Sister Felicity do you remember me, 
disobedient child who did not wince 
at the ruler’s crack, whose angry initials

ate into the scarred oak desktop, 
whose shouts from the cloakroom prison 
disturbed the recitation?

Sister Felicity, I would kneel
next to you now on the hard concrete, 
say the words you tried so hard to teach me.

Journals publishing Janet McCann’s work include Kansas Quarterly, Parnassus, Nimrod, Sou’Wester, America,  The Christian Century, Christianity and Literature, News York Quarterly, Tendril, and others. A 1989 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship winner, she taught at Texas A & M University from 1969-2016, is now Professor Emerita. Most recent poetry collection: The Crone at the Casino (Lamar University Press,  2014). 

Nostalgie de la Poussière – a poem by Clive Donovan

Nostalgie de la Poussière


There is no fresher moment than this one:
Like the new white heartwood of a tree
Or that un-blackened part of a chimney flue,
Flame-swept, or a kitten kept well-licked.
Yes.

But, even when seductive memories, like dusty flecks,
Are flicked away in one, grand, impulsive gesture,
Yes, especially, even, in that sweet,
Mindful time of courage,
Does the cruelty of nostalgie strike:

For, knowing that a moment known
And fully met means death to it,
The quiet pain of this repeat embrace
Compresses to a jewel
Of exquisite note and cut. But
In the gathering contemplation
Of such moments,
Precious gems though they may be,
They are still just motes of dust
Obscuring merely

That clear tip of now which demonstrates,
When scoured of all nostalgic hours...
There is no sweeter state other than this
Nor place, nor polished moment more fine nor braver
To ache or repine for.

Clive Donovan devotes himself full-time to poetry and has published in a wide variety of magazines including Acumen, Agenda, Fenland Poetry Journal, Neon Lit. Journal, Prole, Sentinel Lit. Quarterly and Stand. He lives in Totnes, Devon, U.K. quite close to the river Dart. His debut collection will be published by Leaf by Leaf in November 2021.  

Writing and the Sacred – a reflection by Johanna Caton, O.S.B.

Thoughts about Writing and the Sacred

It is impossible for me to speak about the relationship between writing and the sacred without first saying that I’m a Benedictine nun living monastic life.  Monks and nuns understand our vocation in many ways – it is contemplative, scriptural, liturgical, ecclesial, to name a few – but underlying all and giving meaning to all is the motif of searching for God.  This experience of searching for God is so vital to our vocation that it cannot be overstated.  For the monastic person, the search for God is everything; it is the path of self-giving that leads us to personal fulfilment – more so, for us, even than the great forms of self-dedication usually regarded as being essential to happiness: marriage, family, career, and a certain amount of what’s understood as ‘freedom.’  

What this has to do with a conversation about writing and the sacred is this: for me, writing poetry is a mode of searching for God and is positioned exactly in the centre of my Christian identity and my monastic vocation.  For, although God is undeniably present in every moment of every day, at the same time, and paradoxically, God’s presence and purposes are stunningly elusive.  This changes, however, when I try to ‘look’ through the wide lens of a poem.  Then, something about the sacred is disclosed to me as I write – even if the poem does not reference God in an obvious way.  

This mysterious disclosure of God that happens in the process of writing a poem presupposes faith, then.  But faith alone would not be enough to make a poem engage with the sacred.  I must also be in dialogue with my own ‘inner atheist’ as I write.  I contend that every person, no matter how faith-filled, has one, lurking in the darkened corner of the soul, just waiting to slink out in moments of profound loss or  crisis.  This atheistic aspect of the self, ever in need of evangelisation, needs to be acknowledged.  I may not allude to it in the poem I’m working on, but I know it’s there.  Some poems weaken my ‘inner atheist’; others expose her activity and formidable power – without coming to a clear resolution.  They show the raw material upon which grace still needs to work.  Every poem I write, then, is somehow a dialogue between belief and unbelief – life and death.  It is the dialogue of Easter, the paschal mystery, personalised.  

I like to think of a poem, then, as a sort of ‘theo-scope’, a word I’ve invented to describe something that functions in relation to the sacred like a microscope or telescope functions in relation to the natural world.  Only, instead of enabling me to look at something really tiny or something very far away, the poem, as ‘theo-scope’, enables me to look into something, to discover not only what is there now, today, but also what is eternally there, what is True about it, and what is sacred in it.

Johanna Caton, O.S.B., is a Benedictine nun.  She was born in the United States and lived there until adulthood, when her monastic vocation took her to England, where she now resides.  Her poems have appeared in The Christian Century, The Windhover, The Ekphrastic Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, The Catholic Poetry Room, and other venues, both online and print.  

Holy Island – a poem by Helen Jones

HOLY ISLAND


They walked, 
Crossed spike-ridged sand,
Feet-tearing shells and analytic rocks,
Trod
Steel-sharp sea, a scything wind
Battered skin-roughening wool on sopping legs.
They planted
Fragile cells upon a ridge
Beneath storm- beaten skies and gannets’ shriek.
Rough hand shaped stones
Made their bare square church,
Its music the seals’ fluting cries, percussion of the waves.
Nothing between them and God.

Numb fingers toiled to make word flesh.
Restriction here produced
A flowering of glory, a riot of blossoms, angels, beasts
Entwined as one.
A whole world singing from this barren rock,
And siren-like it drew in souls
To harbour in its grace.

All gone.
Behind the glory of the floating vaults,
The crowds whose chatter bounces from the walls, 
 Their nameless graves are hidden in the turf.
The sea withdraws again,
Across devouring sands,
The birds cry,
And the pilgrims come,
To look for what was lost.

Helen Jones gained a degree in English, many years ago from University College London and later an M.Ed. from the University of Liverpool. She is now happily retired and spend a lot of her time writing and making a new garden. 

Minks – a poem by Sylvia Karman

Minks

Barely dawn, I bring my sleepless weight
to the lake, but not even the tannic
fresh of balsam can toss it from me.
Then a few feet away a snout
pokes out from a pocket of roots.
She pulls free with three more
trailing in a velvet line.
 
They funnel into the sheep laurel, drowsy
with blossoms that barely tremble
from the slip of their skins,
sable so radiant, deep as mercy.
 
And as if that were not enough,
seeing four at once,
the last and smallest and most curious
stops, all still paws and twitching tail,
to get his fill of me until a chittering
calls him to dive into the laurel,
a gasp of musk in his wake.
 
I knew when you returned, my shadow mood.
You arrived weeks ago and unpacked with creeping deliberation
your dark luggage, thought by sinking thought, while I
minced about on sock toes in demanding silence.
 
But now I see—yours is thankless work,
delivering what’s needed.
Me, for one, to the gaze of creature kin
where I might throw off this dense, dull mat of distance
between me and splendor.

Sylvia Karman’s work has appeared in Delmarva ReviewBlueline, and Writing the Land, among others. She lives in the Adirondack mountains of New York and in central Maryland where she hikes and writes for the love of the journey. You can visit her at www.sylviakarman.com .

Jack Gilbert’s Sacred Juxtapositions: Jonathan Cooper considers The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992

Jack Gilbert’s Sacred Juxtapositions: A Review of The Great Fires: Poems, 1982-1992. Alfred A. Knopf; Reprint edition (13 Feb. 1996). By Jonathan Cooper.

Jack Gilbert is almost as famous for the poems he didn’t write as for those he did.  His first collection, Views of Jeopardy, appeared in 1962, to both critical and commercial success.

Two decades then elapsed before the arrival of his second book, Monolithos.  A further twelve years later, In 1994, Gilbert published his third volume, The Great Fires: Poems, 1982-1992.

Gilbert said of his poetry that he aimed to accomplish ‘a lot with the least means possible’, and certainly The Great Fires embodies this sense of economy and restraint.  The poems rely on spare, direct language, with the majority presenting in single block stanzas with no line breaks.  Notwithstanding this simplicity of style, Gilbert’s powerful use of imagery, and his predilection for switching between perspectives, timeframes, and topics—all in a few short phrases—dispel any notion of superficiality.  Take, for example, this excerpt from the poem ‘To See if Something Comes Next’:

Sky and morning, silence and the dry smell
of heavy sunlight on the stone everywhere.
Goats occasionally, and the sound of roosters
in the bright heat where he lives with the dead 
woman and purity. 

From a contemplation of the morning sun on a valley, Gilbert moves to a visceral engagement with mortality—life and death, side by side.  The poem concludes with a reference to a Japanese theatrical device, Noh, whereby the actor can be deemed to be simultaneously dancing and standing still.  As this poem underscores, while the language and structure may be uncomplicated, the verse in The Great Fires stubbornly refuses to remain on a single plain.  Amongst other things, this points to Gilbert’s understanding of spirituality and sacredness, the exploration of which is an overarching theme of the collection.  

Gilbert addresses metaphysical considerations in a way that seems overtly—even jarringly—juxtapositional.  In one short sentence, he takes us from the sound of a rooster in the valley to the dead woman in his kitchen.  However, as the reader moves through The Great Fires, the economical style and compact structure reveal a perspective on the physical and metaphysical that is fundamentally integrative as opposed to dualistic.  

In ‘On Stone’, Gilbert employs multiple sacred juxtapositions, which act in concert to imply a deeper sense of wholeness: the austere ‘scraped life’ of monks in a mountain-side monastery with the sickly-sweet cakes the abbot serves to visitors; the stone-bound monastic silence with the noise of the ‘mind and its fierceness’ and with the dynamic power of the sun, ‘hammering this earth into pomegranates’.  The sacred is not confined to the monastery; rather, it contemplates it as something which permeates both the natural world and the portable dialogue of mind and heart. 

The consideration of the sacred, use of juxtaposition, and Gilbert’s spare, direct style come together with particular forcefulness in the poem ‘Adulterated’.  Arrayed in one stanza of 20 lines, the piece starts in the ‘back streets of Livorno’, with an animated negotiation between a sex worker and a potential client.  After considering the graceful stubbornness of an aging boxing champion, the poem observes that ‘birds sing sometimes without purpose’.  Beginning at line 14, ‘Adulterated’ takes a Christological turn.  It insists on the universality of a metaphysical goodness—’The Lord sees everything, and sees that it is good despite everything’—before ending with the most perturbingly beautiful lines in the entire collection: 

                                                                   ...The manger 
was filthy.  The women at Dachau knew they were about
to be gassed when they pushed back the Nazi guard
who wanted to die with them, saying he must live.
And sang for a little while after the doors closed. 

With a directness bordering on irreverence, Gilbert defies any Hallmark-card sentimentality and in four words conjures animal droppings and straw wallowing in the dirt around the Bethlehem creche.  Then, as the doors close on the gas chamber, ‘Adulterated’ affirms the possibilities of life, of beauty, even when hemmed in by death.  With a childlike clarity, the Nazi guard simply cannot any longer abide the killing of the innocent; however, to affirm the importance of this moral recognition, the women compel him to live, even as they must die.  The evil of the concentration camp is, in a sense, ‘Adulterated’ by the goodness of the interaction between the victims and the guard.  In this poem—and in The Great Fires in general—sacredness will not be safe or precious.  In a way that is at once vital, human, and supernatural, it interweaves with both the depraved and the aspirational, finding a moment of beauty in the dark centre of a death camp.  

For a collection that so readily changes perspectives and embraces contrast, inevitably some images and phrases seem haphazardly thrown together.  In ‘Explicating the Twilight’, Gilbert offers a joyfully imagistic rendering of a rat—its ‘throat an elegant grey’—striving for a mulberry on a precariously thin branch.  However, jammed in the middle of this short poem is a clumsy and unhelpful reference to 18th century poet Christopher Smart and Prospero, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  For the most part, Gilbert’s use of contrast and topical transitions prompt the reader to ponder deeper elements of interrelation; in a few cases, he simply doesn’t pull it off.    

Still, on balance, the collection is compelling and important.  The writer James Dickey said of Gilbert that he was ‘a necessary poet, who teaches not only how to live but to die creatively’.  Indeed, long after one closes The Great Fires, Gilbert’s juxtapositions prod the mind and the heart, inviting us to be more sensitive to the sacred in all its manifestations.

Jonathan Cooper’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in various publications including Thin Air, New Plains Review, Poetry Pacific, Tower Journal, and The Charleston Anvil.  He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Haruspex – a poem by Tuur Verheyde

Haruspex 

See 
A robed man 
Sitting on a ragged
Throne, wondering 
Why the Whispering World 
Won’t start bleating before 
He’s sat down to rest. 

He rises to follow 
The interminable hum
Like he follows his forbearers
And their stringent sagecraft 
Into foretold uncertainties. 

The sound leads him towards 
A mournful glade where 
He kneels down to grope 
The blistered ground. 
Where the dirt is torn
He reaches down to run 
His hand along the gut. 
It reads like braille, 
Like a palimpsest pressed 
Deep into the heaving soil. 

It says little at first, knowing
His creed, its bloodshed not
Forgotten by the earth. 
Finally sensing some flocks 
Might need a guide and 
This one might not stray, 
The dirt spells out 
‘Flood.’ 

He runs back to his sanctuary 
To consult the written and
The dead through rites 
Left for him to keep and
Pass down; well-worn ways
Strain to survive these rapidly 
Transforming times. The days
Snigger at whatever vainly 
Resists the relentless turning. 

He wanders out to where 
He can see the skies only 
To hear the tides growling 
At the base of his hill,
Enclosing. He wonders how
Much time is left to turn 
His temple into an ark.

Tuur Verheyde is a twenty-four year old Belgian poet. His work endeavours to capture the weirdness of the 21st century; its globalised art, culture, politics and problems. Tuur’s poetry seeks to further cultural, spiritual, political and emotional connectivity on an international level. His work is personal and outward looking.

Website: https://www.tuurverheyde.com

Stargazer – a poem by Tuur Verheyde

Stargazer 


In the centre of the frame 
There sits a woman, 
Wreathed in cobalt,
Her body like a wind chime
Following the rippling air, 
Bending to the music 
Of the greater Whole. 
Unlike her Majesty 
She does not
Seek to master mystery, 
Her magick is symbiosis; 
Her story weaves like a wiggle 
In a wondrous tapestry of clouds; 
The Great Goddess is the wind 
That guides her course;
Her craft, the rain and light that 
Falls upon the soil of 
Immovable minds and 
Draws forth bloom. 
She sits sheltered in a room
Like an altar and a web, 
Each piece of art, of tech, of space, 
A thread to lead her towards 
The pregnant lands that expect
Her spring. She is Ariadne
Of the many mirrored maze, 
Following a multitude 
Of pulsing strands, 
Ever on her way to find 
The Goddess at their ends, 
Or from absence
Bring Her forth. 

Tuur Verheyde is a twenty-four year old Belgian poet. His work endeavours to capture the weirdness of the 21st century; its globalised art, culture, politics and problems. Tuur’s poetry seeks to further cultural, spiritual, political and emotional connectivity on an international level. His work is personal and outward looking.

Website: https://www.tuurverheyde.com