Lenten Poetry

POETRY: Death & Transfiguration, by Paul Mariani

April 7, 2017

Down the precipitous switchbacks at eighty the pokerfaced Palestinian cabby aims his Mercedes while the three of us, ersatz pilgrims, blank-eyed, lurch, and the droll Franciscan goes on about the Art Deco Church of the Transfiguration crowning the summit of the Mount. Up there I’d touched the damp stones of the old Crusader fount, paced the thick walls, imagined Muslims circling below on horseback, muleback, then ascending for the final blow. A decent pasta and a dry wine, thanks to the Fratelli who run the hostel at the site, followed by an even drier lecture in the sun- drenched court, then back down to the glinting taxis, ready to return us now to the same old, feverish, unsteady world half a mile below.  I thought of the old [...]

POETRY: Sabbath Poem X, 1979, by Wendell Berry

April 5, 2017

Whatever is foreseen in joy Must be lived out from day to day. Vision held open in the dark By our ten thousand days of work. Harvest will fill the barn; for that The hand must ache, the face must sweat. And yet no leaf or grain is filled By work of ours; the field is tilled And left to grace. That we may reap, Great work is done while we’re asleep. When we work well, a Sabbath mood Rests on our day, and finds it [...]

POETRY: Newness Of Life, by Tania Runyan

April 3, 2017

South African man wakes after 21 hours in morgue fridge. What cold salvation, dragging fingernails through the frost of a half-dream then waking to a plastic cocoon. The louder you scream from your aluminum drawer the more they believe you’re a ghost come to haul them inside. I feel your shivering in my own bones, stumble with you into the vicious light. Some burst alive on the pyres of the Spirit. Some blink open slowly, alone, packing in ice: How did I get here? I never knew I was [...]

POETRY: Crucifixion, by John Greenleaf Whittier

March 31, 2017

Sunlight upon Judah’s hills! And light on the waves of Galilee; On Jordan’s stream, and on the rills The feed the dead and sleeping sea! Most freshly from the green wood springs The light breeze on its scented wings; And gayly quiver in the sun The ceder tops of Lebanon! A few more hours, —a change hath come! The sky is dark without a cloud! The shouts of wrath and joy are dumb, And proud knees unto earth are bowed! A change is on the hill of Death, The helmed watchers pant for breath. And turn with wild and maniac eyes From the dark scene of sacrifice! That Sacrifice! —the death of Him, — The Christ of God, the holy One! Well may the conscious Heaven grow dim, And blacken the beholding Sun. The wonted light hath fled [...]

POETRY: Spring Forward, by Abigail Carroll

March 29, 2017

The crocuses have nudged themselves up through the snow, have opened, never are opening, always daring, Ephemeral prophets, first of the sun’s spring projects, purple- throated chorus of will-have-beens— year after year, their oracles outlast them. Cold’s empire has not yet been undone, but the cardinals have begun to loudly declare its undoing, which is as good as the thing itself, as good as the gutters’ wild running, the spilling of rain down the tar-slick roof, the filling and pooling, the annual re-schooling of earth in the vernal properties of water. A bud both is and is not a flower: furled flag, curled-up tongue of summer, envelope of fire— What is this world but a seed of desire some dream-bent farmer sowed [...]

POETRY: The Doubter’s Prayer, by Anne Brontë

March 28, 2017

Eternal Power, of earth and air! Unseen, yet seen in all around, Remote, but dwelling everywhere, Though silent, heard in every sound. If e’er thine ear in mercy bent, When wretched mortals cried to Thee, And if, indeed, Thy Son was sent, To save lost sinners such as me: Then hear me now, while, kneeling here, I lift to thee my heart and eye, And all my soul ascends in prayer, Oh, give me—give me Faith! I cry. Without some glimmering in my heart, I could not raise this fervent prayer; But, oh! a stronger light impart, And in Thy mercy fix it there. While Faith is with me, I am blest; It turns my darkest night to day; But while I clasp it to my breast, I often feel it slide away. Then, cold and dark, my spirit sinks, To see my light [...]

POETRY: Evening Prayer, by Scott Cairns

March 27, 2017

And what would you pray in the troubled midst of this our circular confusion save that the cup be taken away? That the chill and welling of the blood might suffer by His hushed mercy to abate, to calm the legion dumb anxieties as each now clamors to be known and named? The road has taken on, of late, the mute appearance of a grief whose leaden gravity both insists on speed and slows the pilgrim’s progress to a crawl. At least he’s found his knees. I bear a dim suspicion that this circumstance will hold unyielding hegemony until the day. What would you pray at the approach of this late evening? What ask? And of [...]

POETRY: Calcutta To Cannon Beach, by Nathaniel Lee Hansen

March 24, 2017

I have His darkness—I have His pain—I have the terrible longing for God. (Mother Teresa) That at times this future saint could not sense her Lord while sweating words with pen read as a revelation to me, disclosed that she was human, too. God’s omnipresence still too far—boils, sores, and scars too near, so faith meant treading the waters of theology’s raw mystery, their paradox: belief is doubt that we can know with certainty. And so I cup the ocean with my hands, though fingers leak, dry, then crack. Yet for a moment, I can clutch the ocean with my makeshift bowl, taste the salt my everyday eyes cannot [...]

POETRY: And A Good Friday Was Had By All, by Bruce Dawe

March 23, 2017

You men there, keep those women back and God Almighty he laid down on the crossed timber and Old Silenus my offsider looked at me as if to say nice work for soldiers, your mind’s not your own once you sign that dotted line Ave Caesar and all that malarkey Imperator Rex well this Nazarene didn’t make it any easier really—not like the ones who kick up a fuss so you can do your block and take it out on them Silenus held the spikes steady and I let fly with the sledge-hammer, not looking on the downswing trying hard not to hear over the women’s wailing the bones give way the iron shocking the dumb wood. Orders is orders, I said after it was over nothing personal you understand—we had a drill-sergeant once thought he was [...]

POETRY: Catechism, by Brett Foster

March 21, 2017

What sort of belief would you say is yours? Porous. Calibrated to the times. The week. In what ways has superflux affected you? Too much esteem. Tuned finely to the body’s work. What do you fear has not been delivered? The disease of courage. Will it be required? No questions, please. Can you see yourself tested? I have never suffered for anything. In how many dimensions is your faith? One thin one, at least. [Aside] Was that a trick question? What is the single thing that sustains you? Abiding hope that being here’s made good. Care to clarify? Care to offer last words? I offer essentially nothing, but [...]

POETRY: The Ballad Of Mary’s Son, by Langston Hughes

March 17, 2017

It was in the Spring The Passover had come. There was feasting in the streets and joy. But an awful thing Happened in the Spring— Men who knew not what they did Killed Mary’s Boy. And the Son of God was He— Sent to bring the whole world joy. There were some who could not hear, And some were filled with fear— So they built a cross For Mary’s [...]

POETRY: My Prayers Must Meet A Brazen Heaven, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

March 15, 2017

My prayers must meet a brazen heaven And fail and scatter all away. Unclean and seeming unforgiven My prayers I scarcely call to pray. I cannot buoy my heart above; Above I cannot entrance win. I reckon precedents of love, But feel the long success of sin. My heaven is brass and iron my earth: Yea, iron is mingled with my clay, So harden’d is it in this dearth Which praying fails to do away. Nor tears, nor tears this clay uncouth Could mould, if any tears there were. A warfare of my lips in truth, Battling with God, is now my [...]

POETRY: I Have Stood At The Center Of The World, by Catherine McNiel

March 14, 2017

I have stood at the center of the world The primordial Tree, the innocent Beginning I have been rejected there, exiled So I wander Homeless, yet seeking Home Marked, yet seeking I have traveled so far in my wanderings That I have changed, the distance became a chasm And yet I have stayed so closely tied Lingering near with hope for Healing Longing I stand in the place of Anger and Accusation Watching the last box of bitterness carried out the door Alone now with the vast emptiness in its place There’s nothing left to do but this endless Wandering and lingering I have forgiven But you have forgotten Even a child casts her own shadow The past has built itself into my body and soul And there it is: The bruised and fallen apple is its [...]

POETRY: The Road To Damascus: 6, by Tania Runyan

March 13, 2017

I have sinned, I said. I want eternal life, I said. That was the moment. I wanted nothing but God. I wanted a cheeseburger. I wanted nothing at all. Finally, I wanted it all settled. I folded by hands and spoke To the carpet. I folded my hands and spoke to the Lord. I woke up and felt no different. I woke up and my life came to an [...]

POETRY: Jung’s Shadow And Matthew 4:16, by Marci Rae Johnson

March 10, 2017

Even in winter there was sun living in the green shoulders of the waves. I’d walk the beach alone with shadows: gulls in formation on the ground. Once the bones. Once a poem that wrote itself behind my eyes. When I’d come home he wouldn’t say how much he feared the way I’d carry words to the clouds and let them go. Everyone carries a shadow. Everyone breathes out fog in the cold. Even the living sun can’t melt the ice shelf that pushes up the sand, makes of this familiar scape a wild shape— a place that can’t be known. I walk the dunes above, misplace the old theologies. I suppose a light has dawned. The sun pushed high as it will get, tapping the tops of pines, my own shadow long among the others [...]

POETRY: Lent, by George Herbert

March 9, 2017

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee, He loves not Temperance, or Authority, But is composed of passion. The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now: Give to your Mother, what you would allow To every Corporation. It ‘s true, we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day; Yet to go part of that religious way, Is better than to rest: We cannot reach our Savior’s purity; Yet are bid, Be holy ev’n as he. In both let’s do our best. Who goes in the way which Christ has gone, Is much more sure to meet with him, than one Who travels the by-ways: Perhaps my God, though he be far before, May turn, and take me by the hand, and more May strengthen my decays. Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast By starving sin [...]

POETRY: E Tenebris, by Oscar Wilde

March 8, 2017

Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach thy hand, For I am drowning in a stormier sea Than Simon on thy lake of Galilee: The wine of life is spilt upon the sand, My heart is as some famine-murdered land, Whence all good things have perished utterly, And well I know my soul in Hell must lie If I this night before God’s throne should stand. “He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase, Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height.” Nay, peace, I shall behold before the night, The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame, The wounded hands, the weary human [...]

POETRY: Seventeens — Acoustics, by Amit Majmudar

March 7, 2017

A hand must pass the strings for them to sound. The absence of the touch is what resounds. Axon for axon, we are strung, we are A kind of neurological guitar A star has strummed to music. Our musician Has touched us once, gone quiet now to listen— Is this mind flat or sharp? How well’s it tuned? The absence of his hand is opportune, His famous silence proof we have his ear. Reverberation needs the aisles clear, And rumination needs some room to roam. If he were here, these rhymes would stay at home, And all that’s hard and hardest-won in us Be obviated by the obvious. Have your hosannah, I prefer the hush. Check the acoustics in this empty hall. Not the faintest echo when you [...]

POETRY: New Mexico, 1992, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

March 6, 2017

We learned to make the sign of the cross, Dipping earth stained hands in Catholic Waters. We’ve filled the desert with our altars We prayed our rosaries, played them, Rubbed them, clutched them– rattles in the wind Swaying back and forth—our Playground swings, we rode them toward God, Now hang them on walls or rear view Mirrors of fixed-up ’57 trucks. Comenzamos el Padre Nuestro en espanol but we finish the prayer in a North American tongue. De vez en cuando we gather ourselves together to baptize a child in the name of the Father, the Son, and our ancestors who command us from the grave. We have made our way in the world, worked hard, worked hard. Now, we toss money at the feet of my parent’s grandchildren like [...]

POETRY: Blood In The Snow, by Gregory Spencer

March 3, 2017

I have yet to see a crimson cardinal, though Virginia boasts he’s there waiting on some blossomed branch whistling. Perhaps a blood-red bird will soon appear against this winter-white ash that floats down graceful from God’s chimney. Our children have fallen—we all have— and bear hot bruises from these ice slips. Undeterred, they surf the slopes this March, calculating pace and angles for success. I sent them out today in striped shirts to crunch and slide near the Holocaust museum. Just yesterday a man was murdered there. I remember the news said he did nothing wrong; but I let the children go anyway, to walk that path where winter’s white ash falls from God’s chimney and I’ve yet to see a [...]

POETRY: A Prayer, by Thomas More

March 2, 2017

Grant I thee pray such heat into mine heart, That to this love of thine may be equal; God grant me from Satan’s service to astart, With whom me rueth so long to have be thrall; Grant me good Lord and creator of all, The flame to quench of all sinful desire, And in thy love set all mine heart afire. That when the journey of this deadly life My silly ghost hath finished, and thence Departed must without his fleshly wife;* Alone into his lord’s high presence, He may thee find: O well of indulgence, In thy lordship not as a lord: but rather As a very tender, loving father. Amen. [*silly ghost: the soul; fleshly wife: the [...]

POETRY: Ash Wednesday, by T. S. Eliot

March 1, 2017

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden, Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still Even among these rocks, Our peace in His will And even among these rocks Sister, mother And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea, Suffer me not to be separated And let my cry come unto [...]

POETRY: Repentance, by George Herbert

August 24, 2016

Lord, I confess my sin is great; Great is my sin. Oh! gently treat With thy quick flow’r, thy momentany bloom; Whose life still pressing Is one undressing, A steady aiming at a tomb. Man’s age is two hours’ work, or three: Each day doth round about us see. Thus are we to delights: but we are all To sorrows old, If life be told From what life feeleth, Adam’s fall. O let thy height of mercy then Compassionate short-breathed men. Cut me not off for my most foul transgression: I do confess My foolishness; My God, accept of my confession. Sweeten at length this bitter bowl, Which thou hast pour’d into my soul; Thy wormwood turn to health, winds to fair weather: For if thou stay, I and this day, As we did rise, we [...]

POETRY: Easter Vigil, by Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

March 26, 2016

From the church’s side door we follow the candle held aloft in the uncertain spring evening this dead time between death and birth, treading the pavement to the opened narthex door, the procession silent as dusk. Our tapers flare briefly as they steal flame, then settle into small, steady burns, each a puncture to the gathered darkness of the sanctuary. The human story—the rebellions, the redemptions—read in darkness, the light to some a present shimmer, to most a dim promise. And you, two brothers, sitting in the deepened shadows, not quite sure that this hushed service is really yours, knowing only that your time has almost come. When the congregation gathers at the font, you stand shifting your weight, ready now for drowning, [...]

POETRY: Six Holy Week Triolets, by L. N. Allen

March 26, 2016

Monday After he cursed the fig tree, it withered to its roots. Faith can throw mountains into the sea. After he cursed the fig tree he told his disciples Trust in me, pray, walk the path, preach the truth. After he cursed the fig tree it withered away to its roots. Tuesday Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains just a single grain. Only the fallen and buried can rise. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it cannot grow and multiply and it thirsts, although drowned in rain. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains just a single grain. Wednesday Walk while you have the light so the darkness may not overtake you. Believe in the light. Walk while you have the light. Become children [...]

POETRY: Instructions To An Artisan, by Amit Majmudar

March 25, 2016

Into the rood wood, where the grain’s current splits around the stones of its knots, carve eyelashes and eyelids. Dye the knots, too—indigo, ink-black, vermilion irises. These will be his eyes, always open, willing themselves not to close when dust rises or sweat falls, eyes witnessing, dimly, the eclipse that shawls the shuddering hill, Jerusalem’s naked shoulder. The body itself? From a wick that still whiffs of smolder, wax, because wax sloughs a smooth skein on the fingers just below sensation’s threshold. Prop the cross upright and let the tear-hot wax trickle, slow, clot, taper into a torso, thighs, calves, feet. Of Gideon Bible paper, thinner than skin, cut him his scrap of cloth; embed iron shavings in his [...]

POETRY: Truly No Man Can Ransom Another, by Katherine James

March 23, 2016

Or give to God the price of his life If there is a kettle steaming It is there for the battle inside The structure that changes From water to fog And a mist rising damp to the ceiling If a person seeks to have moments And stretches during which Molecules transgress Their state and buzz unaware In temperatures worth noting Because of the changes within, Then truly it is the heat that gives life Not the ransom of another Or replacement of structure One life gives life that is life If life came from that first Boil, then reach for the heat And plunge into the horror Of molecule’s rapid chant Over and over The love the love the love Your love that ransoms [...]

POETRY: The Love Of The Cross, by Clare of Assisi

March 22, 2016

Look, I say, at the border of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him Who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. O marvelous humility! O astonishing poverty! The King of angels, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, is laid in a manger! Then reflect upon, at the surface of the mirror, the holy humility, at least the blessed poverty, the untold labors and punishments that He endured for the redemption of the whole human race. Finally contemplate, in the depth of this same mirror, the ineffable charity that He chose to suffer on the tree of the Cross and to die there the most shameful kind of [...]

POETRY: Solar Ice, by Paul Mariani

March 9, 2016

The sudden shock of what you really are. Early March. The tentative return of afternoons. Saturday, and Mass again. The four. All about swelling buds on beech & ash & maples. Crocuses & snowdrops trilling. Four months impacted ice at last receding from the north side of the house, and bobbing robins back & soon, soon, red- winged blackbirds strutting on the lawn. Soon too the sweet familiar groundswell of peepers in the marshes. Reasons enough to melt the frozen heart. Father lifted the host above his head & prayed: a small white sun around which everything seemed to coalesce, cohere & choir. But as I raised my head, the thought of some old insult likewise reared its head, and in that instant the arctic hatred [...]

POETRY: To Keep A True Lent, by Robert Herrick

March 9, 2016

Is this a fast, to keep The larder lean? And clean From fat of veals and sheep? Is it to quit the dish Of flesh, yet still To fill The platter high with fish? Is it to fast an hour, Or ragg’d to go, Or show A downcast look and sour? No ; ‘tis a fast to dole Thy sheaf of wheat, And meat, Unto the hungry soul. It is to fast from strife, From old debate And hate; To circumcise thy life. To show a heart grief-rent; To starve thy sin, Not bin; And that’s to keep thy [...]