Lenten Poetry

POETRY: Lead by Mary Oliver

March 30, 2018

Here is a story to break your heart. Are you willing? This winter the loons came to our harbor and died, one by one, of nothing we could see. A friend told me of one on the shore that lifted its head and opened the elegant beak and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing, and for which, if you have not heard it, you had better hurry to where they still sing. And, believe me, tell no one just where that is. The next morning this loon, speckled and iridescent and with a plan to fly home to some hidden lake, was dead on the shore. I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the [...]

POETRY: Singapore by Mary Oliver

March 29, 2018

In Singapore, in the airport, a darkness was ripped from my eyes. In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open. A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl. Disgust argued in my stomach and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket. A poem should always have birds in it. Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings. Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees. A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling. A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem. When the woman turned I could not answer her face. Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win. She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this? Everybody needs a job. Yes, a person wants to stand in [...]

POETRY: The Poet Thinks Of The Donkey by Mary Oliver

March 25, 2018

On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited. How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight. But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount. Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient. I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, [...]

POETRY: Mindful by Mary Oliver

March 21, 2018

Everyday I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for— to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world— to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation. Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant— but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these— the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of [...]

POETRY: Fifth Sunday In Lent by Blessed John Keble

March 18, 2018

And Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” (Exodus 3:3) Th’ historic Muse, from age to age, Thro’ many a waste heart-sickening page Hath trac’d the works of Man: But a celestial call to-day Stays her, like Moses, on her way, The works of God to scan. Far seen across the sandy wild, Where, like a solitary child, He thoughtless roam’d and free, One towering thorn was wrapt in flame; Bright without blaze it went and came: Who would not turn and see? Along the mountain ledges green The scatter’d sheep at will may glean The Desert’s spicy stores: The while, with undivided heart, The shepherd talks with God apart, And, as he talks, adores. Ye too, [...]

POETRY: Some Questions You Might Ask by Mary Oliver

March 14, 2018

Is the soul solid, like iron? Or is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl? Who has it, and who doesn’t? I keep looking around me. The face of the moose is as sad as the face of Jesus. The swan opens her white wings slowly. In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness. One question leads to another. Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg? Like the eye of a hummingbird? Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop? Why should I have it, and not the anteater who loves her children? Why should I have it, and not the camel? Come to think of it, what about the maple trees? What about the blue iris? What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight? What about roses, [...]

POETRY: Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End? by Mary Oliver

March 7, 2018

There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long. The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God. And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier. The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily, out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing from the unreachable top of the tree. I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open. And thinking: maybe something will come, some shining coil of wind, or a few leaves from any old tree– they are all in this too. And now I will tell you the truth. Everything in the world comes. At least, closer. And, cordially. Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed [...]

POETRY: Third Sunday In Lent by Blessed John Keble

March 3, 2018

When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. (Luke 11:21-22) See Lucifer like lightning fall Dash’d from his throne of pride; While, answering Thy victorious call, The Saints his spoils divide, This world of thine, by him usurp’d too long, Now opening all her stores to heal thy servants’ wrong. So when the first-born of thy foes Dead in the darkness lay, When thy redeem’d at midnight rose And cast their bonds away, The orphan’d realm threw wide her gates, and told Into freed Israel’s lap her jewels and her gold. And when their wondrous march was o’er, And they [...]

POETRY: In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

February 28, 2018

Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars of light, are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment, the long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders of the ponds, and every pond, no matter what its name is, is nameless now. Every year everything I have ever learned in my lifetime leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know. To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it [...]

POETRY: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

February 21, 2018

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— over and over announcing your place in the family of [...]

POETRY: Station Island XI by Seamus Heaney / John of the Cross

February 13, 2018

As if the prisms of the kaleidoscope I plunged once in a butt of muddied water Surfaced like a marvelous lightship And out of its silted crystals a monk’s face That had spoken years ago from behind a grille Spoke again about the need and chance To salvage everything, to re-envisage The zenith and glimpsed jewels of any gift Mistakenly abased …. What came to nothing could always be replenished. “Read poems as prayers,” he said, “and for your penance Translate me something by Juan de la Cruz.” Returned from Spain to our chapped wilderness, His consonants aspirate, his forehead shining, He had made me feel there was nothing to confess. Now his sandaled passage stirred me on to this: How well I know that fountain, filling, running, [...]

POETRY: Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis by Denise Levertov

September 6, 2017

Maybe he looked indeed much as Rembrandt envisioned Him in those small heads that seem in fact portraits of more than a model. A dark, still young, very intelligent face, a soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging. That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth in a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions. The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him that He taste also the humiliation of dread, cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go, like any mortal hero out of his depth, like anyone who has taken a step too far and wants herself back. The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how, in the midnight Garden, or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross, He went through with even the [...]

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 [...]