Perspective

Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three poems

Love Song - Adélia Prado

First came cancer of the liver, then came the man
leaping from bed to floor and crawling around
on all fours, shouting: "Leave me alone, all of you,
just leave me be," such was his pain without remission.
Then came death and, in that zero hour, the shirt missing
a button.

I'll sew it on, I promise,
but wait, let me cry first.
"Ah," said Martha and Mary, "If You had been here,
our brother would not have died." "Wait," said Jesus,
"let me cry first."
So it's okay to cry? I can cry too?
If they asked me now about life's joy,
I would have only the memory of a tiny flower.
Or maybe more, I'm very sad today:
What I say, I unsay. But God's Word
is the truth. That's why this song has the name it has.


Mennonites - Julia Spicher Kasdorf

We keep our quilts in closets and do not dance.
We hoe thistles along fence rows for fear
we may not be perfect as our Heavenly Father.
We clean up his disasters. No one has to
call; we just show up in the wake of tornadoes
with hammers, after floods with buckets.
Like Jesus, the servant, we wash each other's feet
twice a year and eat the Lord's Supper,
afraid of sins hidden so deep in our organs
they could damn us unawares,
swallowing this bread, his body, this juice.
Growing up, we love the engravings in Martyrs Mirror:
men drowned like cats in burlap sacks,
the Catholic inquisitors,
the woman who handed a pear to her son,
her tongue screwed to the roof of her mouth
to keep her from singing hymns while she burned.
We love Catherine the Great and the rich tracts
she gave us in the Ukraine, bright green winter wheat,
the Cossacks who torched it, and Stalin,
who starved our cousins while wheat rotted
in granaries. We must love our enemies.
We must forgive as our sins are forgiven,
our great-uncle tells us, showing the chain
and ball in a cage whittled from one block of wood
while he was in prison for refusing to shoulder
a gun. He shows the clipping from 1916:
Mennonites are German milksops, too yellow to fight.
We love those Nazi soldiers who, like Moses,
led the last cattle cars rocking out of the Ukraine,
crammed with our parents--children then--
learning the names of Kansas, Saskatchewan, Paraguay.
This is why we cannot leave the beliefs
or what else would we be? why we eat
'til we're drunk on shoofly and moon pies and borscht.
We do not drink; we sing. Unaccompanied on Sundays,
those hymns in four parts, our voices lift with such force
that we lift, as chaff lifts toward God.


The Book of Hours - B. H. Fairchild

Like the blue angels of the nativity, the museum patrons
hover around the art historian, who has arrived frazzled
and limp after waking late in her boyfriend’s apartment.
And here, she notes, the Procession of St. Gregory,
where atop Hadrian’s mausoleum the angel of death
returns his bloody sword to its scabbard
, and staring
down at the marble floor, liquid in the slanted
silver light of mid-morning, she ponders briefly
the polished faces of her audience: seraphim gazing
heavenward at the golden throne, or, as she raises
her tired eyes to meet their eyes, the evolving souls
of purgatory, bored as the inhabitants of some
fashionable European spa sunbathing on boulders.
And here, notice the lovely treatment of St. John
on Patmos, robed in blue and gold
, and she tells the story
of gall-nuts, goats’ skins dried and stretched into vellum—
the word vellum delicious in its saying, caressed
in her mouth like a fat breakfast plum—lapis lazuli
crushed into pools of ultramarine blue, and gold foil
hammered thin enough to float upon the least breath,
the scribes hastily scraping gold flakes into ceramic cups,
curling their toes against the cold like her lover stepping
out of bed in that odd, delicate way of his, wisps of gold
drifting like miniature angels onto the scriptorium’s
stone floor, and dogs’ teeth to polish the gold leaf
as transcendent in its beauty, she says, as the medieval
mind conceived the soul to be.


The patrons are beginning
to wander now as she points to the crucifixion scene,
done to perfection by the Limbourg brothers, the skull and bones
of Adam lying scattered beneath the Roman soldier’s horse
,
and the old custodian wipes palm prints from the glass, the monks
breathe upon their fingertips and pray against the hard winter,
and the art historian recalls the narrow shafts of light tapping
the breakfast table, the long curve of his back in half-shadow,
the bed’s rumpled sheets lifted by an ocean breeze
as if they were the weightless gold leaf of the spirit.


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